Thursday, December 01, 2011

Holding on to Thanksgiving

As we move from Thanksgiving and the traditional celebration of the harvest, our family turns to a celebration of Christmas. Christmas is my favorite holiday and December is my favorite month. I love the lights, the music, the spirit of gift giving and the thoughtfulness that goes into the selection of gifts.

But I’m reluctant to let go of Thanksgiving. We’ve been very purposeful in our efforts to establish an attitude of gratitude within our family and with our children. Every night we say a prayer of thanks that begins with those that help shape and mold our lives. This part of the prayer is the same every night. We say thank you for our parents, grandparents uncles, aunts, cousins, siblings, teachers and friends. We say thank you for our ancestors who helped clear the path on which we travel. Then we say thank you for our pets and for those specific items or activities that have brought joy during our day. I don’t know what impact the prayer has on my kids or my wife but it helps me focus and end the day in the right frame of mind. I silently repeat it before I fall asleep.

Often it is hard to be thankful and mindful of all of life’s gifts. In spite of all that we have, life is often hard. My wife’s grandmother, Burney Horne, learned extreme hardship as an early life lesson. Burney was fond of saying, “Life isn’t for sissies!” And she was right.

Earlier this fall, the New York Times Sunday Magazine asked the question, “What if the Secret to Success is Failure?” The article looked at the issue of character education in America today and concluded that our current way of doing things, teaching kids to work hard and be nice may not be the fundamental character education they need. The article makes the point that what kids need is to learn how to overcome hardship with some degree of grace. True character, the article says, is built when we look within ourselves and find a way to rise above something bad that is happening.

So I look around at our world and I see wars and terror, corruption and stalemate, boundless greed and deceit and I wonder how we will rise above it. I look at my family and I see an argument with my wife, the stress caused by too much work and the mad dash of parenting two kids and I wonder how I will rise above it. I turn on cable news I’m told that we are a blessed, exceptional country and that means we will automatically rise above it and I wonder if that means I can quit worrying and go to bed.

And maybe a good night’s sleep is just what I need. Because before I go to sleep I say a prayer of thanksgiving and I remember that exceptionalism comes when people rise above the bad things that happen in our lives. I say thank you for my ancestors, my friends, my teachers and my family because I never rise above on my own. I always need a little help.

Four years before Burney Horne passed away, I was asked to drive her home after the funeral of her grandson, Chris. In a time filled with sharp emotions and great pain, Burney spent most of that car ride focusing on the things for which she was thankful and at the top of the list were a lifetime of moments she was able to share with her family and friends. I spent most of that car ride back in school, listening as Burney gave me a lesson in character education. I’m thankful for it.

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