At your service: November 23, 2011

Most of us, for most of the year, spend a considerable amount of time lamenting our condition; there is always something to complain about. This last year has been even worse than usual – an underactive economy and overactive nature. Now we find ourselves at the end of November and all that is supposed to be put aside for a day of thanks giving.

You may be a better person than I am, but I am having some trouble forgetting what could have been the worst year of my life. I only say “could” because my life is not yet over and something even more horrible could lie ahead. Let’s just settle on the fact that it is hard to identify things for which I am grateful. You may have a similar set of conflicting emotions.

Along comes my friend, Michael. His life has been pretty good lately: he picked up a solid two-year job for his contracting company; the building will be all green, enabling him to learn some new skills while building an eco-friendly reputation; and his wife had a wonderfully healthy boy this summer. Here he is on the telephone bemoaning the breakdown of the family dryer (it really does matter because they have chosen cloth diapers for Junior).

Michael may be a wizard with a backhoe and can frame a house without thinking about it, but household appliances beat him down. He calls me because I have a pretty good track record fixing other people’s things. Sure enough, he follows my instructions and voila – he’s back in the diaper drying business. As he’s signing off, he hesitates, “I guess I should be grateful, I’m pretty lucky to have problems that are so easily fixed.”

This column is not headed down the “it could be worse” path. But, I am rethinking my perspective. I am looking way back at the first Thanksgiving.

When the Pilgrims set sail from Plymouth to escape religious persecution in 1620, they numbered 102. The Mayflower went off course in a series of bad storms and came in late November to what is now Cape Cod. Despite the fact that they were only authorized to land in Virginia, reduced provisions forced them ashore to winter in New England. After a harsher winter than they had ever known in England, a difficult growing season made worse by a lack of planting knowledge in general and specifically of native crops, they managed to reach the time of the harvest with 53 survivors.

While they had obtained permission to stay and were determined to do just that, their prospects were bleak and another harsh winter was on the way. Despite the difficulties of daily life and promise of trying times ahead, the Pilgrims went ahead with their traditional harvest celebration, joined in the partying by the Wampanoag, who had proven themselves to be a strong ally to the struggling colony. As was their routine, they said a prayer of thanksgiving.

Perhaps the real lesson of the first thanksgiving is “fake it ’til you make it.” When times are tough and you can’t see a way out, go ahead and keep the traditional celebrating going. It may not make tomorrow brighter or solve the problems you must face then, but it will lighten today. There is much to be said for a lighter today.

Leave your burdens at the door and enjoy the sit down with your family and friends. Bask for whatever time you have together in the light of one another. That is something for which we can always be thankful.