Day after tomorrow is my favorite holiday: Thanksgiving Day. For me, this is a blessed pause to ponder and celebrate with family and friends the bountiful blessings of cherished loves and the rich harvest that so many of us share. For sure, once again in 2017, America has been abundantly blessed.
Throughout our land, families and friends soon will gather for fun, fellowship and a great feast. This annual national pause to give thanks is deeply rooted in our nation’s psyche. Tradition holds that since the fall of 1621 we Americans regularly have offered our deep gratitude for all our many blessings. Remember those early history lessons? After the Pilgrims lost nearly half their colony that first winter in Massachusetts, the Wampanoag Native Americans befriended them and taught them how to work the land, grow crops and thereby provide necessary food. At the following harvest, the Pilgrims and their new Native American friends joined together in a great feast in thanksgiving for their newfound abundance. Since then, Thanksgiving Day has grown into our yearly harvest celebration. Giving thanks has been part of America since the beginning. That, in itself, is something for which to give thanks.
This year, however, our special day is under a grievous shadow. Many Americans will gather around tables that include empty chairs. The horrors of gun massacres continue to haunt our nation. On Nov. 5, 26 innocent worshippers at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland, Texas, were wantonly murdered by an evil killer. On Nov. 2, three shoppers were murdered at a Walmart store in the Denver area. In California, on Nov. 14, another random shooting rampage killed six innocent people. November began with horror and death. And the greater tragedy is that such atrocious events are no longer a surprise or a shock. They have become common happenings in our beloved land. The question is no longer “if” but “when” will murderous evil strike again. More and more Americans are observing and remembering special days cloaked in sadness with families diminished by violence and cruelty. Hopefully, those of us who joyfully gather on Thursday will pause and remember in prayer those who suffer in grief on this day. May those who were murdered be now surrounded by divine love and given their promised new life. May the broken hearts of those who remain be healed and strengthened to continue loving even within agonizing grief. This will be a painful Thanksgiving Day for many Americans.
Then to add insult to injury, the day following Thanksgiving is known as Black Friday. It is the annual launch of the frenzied “holi-daze.” Friday is the much-hyped beginning of the exciting weeks of anticipation, parties, presents and festivities filled with frolicking fun and feasts. It is that jolly-holly holiday time when happiness is expected, assured and assumed. We have become so committed to being happy that any hint of unhappiness must be avoided. If a person is unhappy during the holidays, it is assumed the problem lies with the person not with the promise. But this year, many will live the season in mourning. We must be very careful to honor, respect and allow their sadness. Years ago while serving in a private therapy practice, our busiest times were November and December. Surrounded by all the obvious trappings of joy, those suffering from depression, those with low self-esteem, and those who were alone, homeless, in care facilities, ill and grieving, simply felt worse. Somehow they had accepted the premise that good people were always awarded good things ... happiness, joy and fun. Bad people were deprived those things and were punished by being denied such pleasures. They silently assumed that somehow they were personally responsible for their misery. This horrible myth, inbred in so many children, resulted in much sadness, despair and desperation. Suicides sadly spiked during this “most wonderful time of the year.” That’s why it is so important to be aware of those outside “the season to be jolly,” the many who will be struggling just to heal and to live. Especially this year we must pray for those who will face an empty chair at the table left by a loved one who was ruthlessly murdered. For the forgotten, forlorn and grieving, “Black Friday” is the beginning of a truly black season. It so often only intensifies their pain.
But for most of us, the day after tomorrow can be a day of joyful Thanksgiving. We can offer deep thanks for life, for love, for liberty, for learning and for laughter. We can begin with thankfulness that we are American, a wonder denied so many and tragically is now even threatened to be taken from some innocent young people. We can give thanks that for the most part America and the world remain at peace, even as threats and accusations between nations continue to jeopardize that peace. We can give thanks to God that most of us can look forward to tomorrow, to a future that has hope, promise and possibilities. For so many, life is good and we can give heartfelt thanks. ... ”God bless us every one!”
Bob Layne is a retired Episcopal priest living in McPherson. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.