In yesterday's post I offered up the epigraph from my forthcoming book, and my delight therewith. Namely:
"Courtesies of a small and trivial character are the ones which strike deepest in the grateful and appreciating heart."—Henry Clay
It strikes me that Mr. Clay's remark also works particularly well for a Thanksgiving post in the midst of, for many, a very tough year.
When I got back from my Angola-Saudi Arabia-Dubai-Ecuador-India-Etc. marathon, I tweeted about the fact that my greatest thrill (yes, thrill) was the Unmitigated Joy of the Ordinary: doing my laundry, chatting with neighbors at nearby Mach's Market, working through Susan's T'giving shopping list, and, yes, washing the dinner dishes (I don't use the dishwasher—I like the therapeutic part of hand washing).
I am not soft-peddling the loss of a job or a major reduction in hours or the like. Nonetheless, what we pretty much all do have is the opportunity to be thoughtful to others—to offer up "courtesies of a small and trivial character."
Add these kindred quotes to the "keeper" list:
"I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble."—Helen Keller
"We do no great things, only small things with great love."—Mother Teresa
So how about dedicating Thanksgiving 2009 to purposefully Practicing Courtesies of a Small and Trivial Character?
(I started out this Wednesday by sending "Happy Thanksgiving" emails of no more than a few lines in length to about 80 or 90 people.) (As usual, the responses are pretty amazing—so much so that it almost makes the drill feel self-serving.) (Speaking of the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I just read that the pilgrim fathers and mothers preceded Thanksgiving by a fast day. I think that is a marvelous idea. Alas, I read the article after breakfast on Wednesday. But next year ...)
At any rate, Happy Thanksgiving. And, as always, my deepest gratitude to our soldiers and sailors and airmen and marines away from home, and in many cases in harm's way, on this November 26th.
Sitting down with friends and family today, there will be thanks for the steady currents, flowing out of the past, that have brought us to this table. There will be thanks for the present union and reunion of us all. And there will be prayerful thanks for the future. But it’s worth raising a glass (or suspending a forkful for those of you who’ve gotten ahead of the toast) to be thankful for the unexpected, for all the ways that life interrupts and renews itself without warning.
What would our lives look like if they held only what we’d planned? Where would our wisdom or patience — or our hope — come from? How could we account for these new faces at the Thanksgiving table or for the faces we’re missing this holiday, missing perhaps now all these years?
It will never cease to surprise how the condition of being human means we cannot foretell with any accuracy what next Thanksgiving will bring. We can hope and imagine, and we can fear. But when next Thanksgiving rolls around, we’ll have to take account again, as we do today, of how the unexpected has shaped our lives. That will mean accounting for how it has enriched us, blessed us, with suffering as much as with joy.
That, perhaps, is what all this plenty is for, as you look down the table, to gather up the past and celebrate the present and open us to the future.
There is the short-term future, when there will be room for seconds. Then there is the longer term, a time for blossoming and ripening, for new friends, new family, new love, new hope. Most of what life contains comes to us unexpectedly after all. It is our job to welcome it and give it meaning. So let us toast what we cannot know and could not have guessed, and to the unexpected ways our lives will merge in Thanksgivings to come.