Thanksgiving

Truly grateful people excel in generosity. Theirs is the open door, the feast, and the extra chair. They live outside the narrow corner of self-preoccupation, and they welcome to the table the beloved and the irritating. Albert Schweitzer described them in this way: “At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person.” He encourages us to give thanks to those who light the flame within us.

Just as the Thanksgiving meal is a time of nostalgia, gratitude takes us back to moments of good manners, civility, and refinement. In some ways, giving thanks has a medieval allure: folded hands and linen napkins, crystal glassware and virtues carved in stone. Gratitude seems painted in a bygone time, as old-fashioned as a handwritten note sent by snail-mail.

Henri Nouwen wrote that gratitude, the giving of thanks, is a discipline—a conscious act. When we are grateful, we live with new attentiveness. In turn, we bring new eyes to nature and to others, and so, of course, we give thanks. Wake up, smell the coffee, the roses, and a new day.
give-thanks

Gratitude does not come naturally. The newborn cry is not one of thanksgiving. If my mother brought in our birthday cake or our school lunches and we had no response, she would ask, “And what do you say?” Soon enough, we had learned the magic words of “Thank you.” I love Gertrude Stein’s “Silent gratitude isn’t very much to anyone.” My mother would have laughed in agreement with Stein’s words: gratitude comes in verbal expression, or it does not come at all.

In my journey toward generosity, courtesy, discipline, and expression, I have reasons to be grateful. At Thursday’s feast, those seated around the table will join hands, as always, and begin by giving thanks to the Giver of all good: “Bless us, O, Lord, and these Thy Gifts which we are about to receive from Thy bounty . . .” In keeping with tradition, we will lift our glasses and say to one another, “Happy Thanksgiving.”

Super Men

We may enjoy make-believe heroes, but in real life we check for pedestal cracks. “No one is that virtuous or that unselfish,” we say. Often we size up individuals and assume they are too good to be true.

But, once upon a time, we loved heroes. We rode on their shoulders.

Today, I’m drifting into a past that gave the world quite a few good men: Paul Robson and Will Rogers, John XXIII and Daniel Berrigan, Bobby Kennedy and Archbishop Romero.

Closer to home were my brothers.

Mike & Alan

I love this shot of Michael and Alan, my childhood heroes.

Brother. St. Francis called Sun, Wind, and Fire his brothers. They brighten our days, clear the air, and play—nature’s Supermen before Clark Kent. In childhood, Michael’s advice kept me safe,  and Alan’s humor kept me laughing. For a young girl, those actions equal a leap over tall buildings.

51qdd8YTSvL._SX288_BO1,204,203,200_In the 1970’s I participated in a retreat given by Jean Vanier, a giant of a man in physical height and capacity of heart. Founder of L’Arche, the community that welcomes the developmentally disabled, Vanier spoke to us of the mutual enrichment occurring when people live together in love.

So, what, then defines a super man? Is it our memory of someone who emerges larger than life? Is it the one who accomplishes what we could never achieve ourselves?

The poet May Sarton describes one essential element: “One must think like a hero to behave like a merely decent human being.” Sarton opens the door to a deeper humanity for men and women alike: think heroically in order to act decently.

Keeping Watch

Maple, dressed in scarlet, dawn-
dappled, asks the nest of fawn-
blotted leaves beneath her feet:
“What is it like to wilt and fall?”

Wind, the roving rustler, bides
time and taunts the squirrel who hides
oval nuts, hard-candy sweets:
“Think you, Sir, I’ll not tell all?”

Starlight whispers to the moon
“Clouds, like tarps, are coming soon,
sliding rain and bitter sleet.
“Do you mind the shroud, the shawl?”

Listen: stay and wait and keep
watch on leaves beneath the trees,
squirrels digging treasures deep,
moonlight wrapped as if in sleep.