The Thanks of Giving
There is a wonderful moment at the mid-point of the classic adventure film “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” when Indiana, in a quiet moment with his father, laments that throughout their relationship they have never simply talked. Professor Jones Sr. (wonderfully portrayed by the late Sean Connery), prefers to focus on planning for the next phase of their quest, but having been thus rebuked, responds rather tersely, “Fine! We’re here now. What do you want to talk about?!!” Having then finally received his father’s undivided (if curt) attention, Indiana, despite years of built up questions, thoughts and ideas to share with his father, finds himself speechless, unable to, as he puts it, “think of anything.”
Unlike Indiana, I certainly can’t claim to be unable to think of anything to write for this, my second dispatch of “The Civil Pause.” In fact, my challenge is quite the opposite. My struggle lies in having so much to discuss, I hardly know where to begin! Since the initial penning of my introductory article, a number of unforeseen challenges presented themselves, which led to an inevitable delay in its continuation. Many of you wrote in response to that article which posted on July 7 of this year. Your words of support and encouragement towards this column’s purpose were sincerely heartwarming and touched me deeply. I can only ask for your patient understanding when I share that, due to a series of circumstantial failings, I was unaware of your feedback until quite recently. I expect matters to be in proper order now and reiterate my commitment to you, the Easton Courier and its numerous devotees that make it a success, and this wonder community of ours, going forward. With that, please accept my sincerest apologies and appreciations for your continuing support and readership.
This past week, many of us were privileged to partake in various Thanksgiving celebrations and traditional feasts appropriate to the occasion. For my own part, my family and I ventured down to the Natural History Museum in NYC, to enjoy watching the inflation of the Macy’s Day Parade balloons on the evening before Thanksgiving. We, along with thousands of other curious spectators… men, women and children alike… strolled in something of a reverse pre-parade past the stationary floats and gigantic balloons in what can only be described as slack jawed awe. The magnificent size and detail of these balloons are truly something to behold up close. To say the experience left us with feelings of joy and wonderment would be something of an understatement.
Afterwards, we walked several blocks back to our evening’s accommodations whilst discussing our shared amazement and how we planned to watch the parade on TV the next morning and looked forward to trying (not that much effort would be required) to spot the balloons we had just seen in person, on the parade broadcast. Needless to say, our spirits were high. With that in mind, anyone who has spent any time in NYC knows that to walk the streets of New York without one’s senses about them, is folly. It is a practice that takes very little time, or but one unfortunate experience, to become second nature. And so it was that as we walked, I was regularly scanning not only the ground directly in our path, but our surroundings in general for any thing or one that might be a point of concern. In doing so, I was quickly reminded of the cold, hard reality that many on the streets of New York must consider their status quo year round, let alone during what should be the joyous holiday season.
This led me to ponder the vast numbers of people, not just in New York, but in our country – to say nothing of the world – who were not sharing in the jubilation that my family and I were that evening or expecting to the next day. Thanksgiving day… a day of thanks giving… giving thanks… for what? Well, of course, most of you reading this, and certainly I who am privileged to be writing it, have a great many things for which to give thanks. Despite the myriad life challenges that we are each struggling with every day, the average American citizen doesn’t have to look too hard and far to think of a person or people, whether they’ve met them or not, who are living with significantly less fortunate circumstances than they are. Of course, it is not my intention to diminish the legitimacy of the challenging paths we all have and continue to walk. For my own part, I can think of more than a couple of life’s proverbial mountains which I’d have preferred not to climb. Some, I’m sorry to say, I am all but still dangling from the cliffs of, barely hanging on. I’m sure you could easily say the same. But when we pause and step back to take in the wider view, we see that there are a great many challenges we are currently facing as members of our local, national and global communities that are far more daunting than any one of our personal points of angst. Be it war, hunger, homelessness, disease, unemployment, rising cost of living, economic uncertainty, access to quality education, politics, environmental issues and so on, the wall of human progress seems ever more daunting with each passing day, let alone year. And this puts me in mind of what might be one of the greatest tragedies of our time.
This past week, people all around our country sat together to break bread in gratitude, and many did so whilst simultaneously being terrified to break silence in substantive conversation. We’ve all heard it whispered far too many times; “Don’t bring up politics at the table.” “Don’t say anything in front of your Uncle Joe.” “Don’t let Grandma hear you talk like that.” … and so on. And these warnings were probably offered with good cause. How many of you have dared to broach a “touchy subject” and found yourselves regretting it? How many dinner tables across our nation found themselves with an empty chair normally reserved for a long-time beloved family member or friend, who is, or feel they are, no longer welcomed? Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t live in fantasy land. I know all too well the inner feelings of “I’ve done all I can.” There are some people with whom we are simply not able to connect… or are there? These days, I find I’m more and more often asking myself, “have I actually done all I can?” And while there are times when the answer to that reflection is, to the best of my ability, “yes”, more often than I’d care to admit, the truth is “No, not really!”
These are extraordinary social times and they call for extraordinary personal measures. We have some real social mountains to climb in our larger world and in our individual hearts. These challenges can only be tackled together. But it takes the courage of us as individuals to be unwilling to settle for “well, I tried.” There is almost always something more we can do… some other way we can reach out… some new perspective we can consider… some new curiosity for each other we can choose to explore.
This Friday, on our partner podcast “Civil Discourse: This is Not a Safe Space,” we take a look at the history and social traditions of our American Thanksgiving, from what it was, has become and what the future may hold for this day reserved for giving thanks amongst us. I invite you to join us in our conversation. You can listen in by clicking the following link: https://civildiscourse.captivate.fm/episodes/1#showEpisodes. I also invite you to write in here and share your thoughts about your relationship to Thanksgiving. What was your experience growing up? What traditions of giving thanks did you participate in? How do they compare to your familial practices now? Are you and yours able to speak civilly on challenging topics around the dinner table? If not, how do you avoid the conversational traps and keep things polite? You can send your email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
I want to say again and for the final time, thank you for your continued support and readership. I look forward to many meaningful and hopefully inspiring points of reflecting in the coming weeks and months. For now, I leave you with this thought… Consider that the most precious thing we have to be grateful for is our time. We are gifted an unknown yet finite amount of it. Whatever our time may be, it is all we have to be with ourselves and each other, our friends, our parents, our husbands and wives, our children… our time is our most precious commodity with which we either make the world better or worse. Take and use your time to its absolute fullest for it shall not be replenished. Think not to next year’s holidays, but create the greatest joy for those most dear to you here and now. And don’t forget to find that joy within yourselves. Find a quiet moment in each day, not just Thanksgiving, to rejoice in that for which you are most grateful. A moment that, perhaps, we will continue to find together here, in The Civil Pause.
Charles Frederick Secrease is the host of “Civil Discourse: This is Not a Safe Space,” a podcast dedicated to thoughtful discussion of challenging issues – found wherever you go to download podcasts. He holds graduate degrees in communication and music from Sacred Heart University and the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. He has been a consultant for performing arts organizations throughout the U.S., Europe and East Asia. He is a member of the Prague Shakespeare Company and has lived and worked in music and theatre on five different continents. He now lives with his wife, son and two dogs in Redding, and can be heard every Wednesday on WMNR out of Monroe, where he hosts a weekly classical music program from 8 a.m – noon.