While giving thanks, don't forget the small stuff

Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday. Hope and excess characterize what's come to be called "turkey day" by many of the carnivores among us.

We hope our dysfunctional families keep it together long enough so Uncle Elmo doesn't pass out on the couch before dinner is served; sisters Betty and Bertha refrain from slinging carving knives at each other; and we can make it through the day with laughter and good cheer but nary an angry word. Hoping for the best returns us to the family table laden with an excess of edibles from the top of the food chain. Afterwards, as our bloated bellies make it all but impossible to avoid nodding off, the evening news reminds us--in the cheeriest of tones--for some people, this holiday means standing in line for a hot meal doled out by smiling volunteers.

And this year, you can count on a number of uplifting stories about American soldiers in Iraq who, despite being stuck in a hell hole of our own making, will dutifully smile and wave to the camera as they chow down on their portion of flesh. For their families, a real thanks-giving remains on hold.

But for those of us who won't be returning to battle or home to a culvert after the festivities, Thanksgiving affords us the opportunity to pause, reflect and give genuine thanks for what we so often take for granted. The operant word here is "genuine."

It's much too easy to mouth the usual platitudes as family and friends take turns expressing gratitude before everyone dives in for the food--assuming, of course, even this small gesture precedes the feast. In waves determined by time zones, only slight variations on this chorus rise from coast to coast: "We give thanks for our family and friends gathered here, for our health, grandpa's recovery, for Sue Ellen's new job, and this bounty in the name of blah, blah blah."

What this type of giving thanks doesn't recognize is the plethora of little things (really not so little) we encounter on a daily basis we assume will always be available to meet our needs and provide us comfort.

So before the holiday season takes off like a Christmas cactus in full bloom, I'm making a list (it is list-making season, after all) of my blessings and bounty. Mundane as they may appear, their absence would be noticed and result in varying degrees of unpleasantness, if not upheaval. What's not on this list is my family and friends, because for them, I give thanks daily.

The No. 1, top-of-the-list item for which I thank God every time I step into the shower is hot water. Hot water, you say? Where did she come from, some rural backwater with an outhouse and well? No, but I do remember my grandparents schlepping down to the basement to fill a portable tank with fuel needed to keep the house warm and the water hot. Forget about electronic this and digital that; if we wanted to keep toasty and wash in something other than ice water, someone had to do the work.

Once we had hot water, a passel of us got to share it in one bathroom (though not all at the same time). We are talking a small bathroom: roughly the size of what these days some people consider an undersized walk-in closet. So I am thankful for the bourgeois luxury of a second bathroom.

On the subject of rooms: I am privileged to have a room of my own where I can shut the door and go about the business of contributing words to a world already awash in too many of them. But since it's what I do, I am thankful I have a quiet space in which to do it.

And I am profoundly thankful I lived up to my father's praise when he delighted in the fact that I was able to root around in the refrigerator and come up with an edible meal. Over time, this knack transmogrified into an ability to cook. Cooking well, and taking pleasure in it, is a blessing I can share. Sharing makes it all the more precious.

I am thankful for the wind chime outside our front door, because it reminds me of God's breath and, despite efforts to purge them from our modern lives, magic and mystery abound in the universe.

Perhaps more than anything, I am grateful for humor, for the tendency to laugh at myself and the world around us. If there were a heaven, I am sure it would not be populated by dour righteous types, but rather by folks who could share a bawdy joke with God after splitting the wine, doing a jig, laughing over creation and raising their voices in thanks for the music.

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