Thoughts on Thanksgiving, from turkeys to giving thanks
Whether the backdrop is the thunderous Pacific, the Rocky Mountains, the Sonoran Desert, the Badlands, the Heartland, the Mississippi, the Bayou, the Low Country, Appalachia, the Mid-Atlantic, the Big Apple or New England, Thanksgiving is a time set apart.
Students return home - often for their first trip since summer's end - family and friends travel enormous distances to join others, traditional recipes are prepared from one or more sides of the family, and a great melding occurs - of flavors and friendships.
It's also the time when unresolved emotions trundling just beneath the surface threaten to erupt. For some families, close proximity is not ideal - for others, it answers a craving.
The dinner - after lengthy preparation - is always devoured in such short order that more than one cook has pondered the time it takes to create such a feast. Whether celebrants observe traditions or create new ones, eat turkey or tofu or lobster - whether or not they overeat - there's sure to be pie and leftovers.
Following are family walks, family games, the stretching of legs in the recliner to make room for the belly - better to watch the football game. The great dishwashing marathon ensues after dinner - the wrapping and dividing up of leftovers, the accurate return of plates and pots and patters to the contributors of the great feast.
The day after Thanksgiving sandwiches oozing cranberry sauce over turkey piled high with stuffing is one of American's great delights.
All this is the work and decoration of the day - the social lure that pulls people together, but the underlying reason for the day is quite central - not only to a version of American history, but also to the cultures of the world.
We give thanks all around the planet - maybe not specifically on the fourth Thursday of November, but we give thanks for so many things worldwide: for healthy children, for love, for a successful harvest, for opportunity, for safety, for employment, for destinations reached and journeys enjoyed, for a peaceful day in a dangerous world, for clean drinking water, for a good night's sleep, for a dream come true, for one last glimpse of a beloved, for the sound of the sea and the light of the stars, for a helping hand, for the experience of all that we love, for the other side of hardship, for the ability to laugh and to weep, for divine love, for serendipity, for the occasion to extend a kindness, for making ends meet, for the one who was lost and who is, at long last, found, for the realization of truth, for healing, for revelation, for sweetness and innocence, for the truest of friends, for maturity and wisdom, for the sound of a certain voice, for the balm of nature, for living through the storm, and sometimes for the storm itself, for new experiences that broaden horizons, for beauty in all its forms for the beholder, for common sense, for the ebb and flow of tides and time, for creativity, for courage, for a baby's grasp, for lessons learned, for the continuation of all we hold dear, and for memories that sustain us in times of grief.
Beyond the reasons for giving thanks on a designated day, walking in gratitude every day, even - or perhaps especially - in the most difficult of times, lightens the emotional and psychological load, gives us the opportunity to count our blessings, and reminds us of the great wealth we hold of things that really matter.
Susan Klein of Oak Bluffs is an author and storyteller who conducts workshops on Martha's Vineyard, around the nation, and in Europe. Ms. Klein and West Tisbury photographer Alan Brigish have collaborated on "Martha's Vineyard - Now & Zen: community, traditions, and transformations," available next year.