Thanksgiving is soon upon us. Many of us, myself included, will be traveling to be with family. Some are hosting family or friends for the big feast, some will be standing in steamy kitchens preparing and then serving meals to those who have no home, some will be those people coming in out of the cold for a hot meal and a full stomach, perhaps the first in weeks. But all of us, in one way or another will be marking our American Thanksgiving Day.
Children in schools across the country will be learning of the Pilgrims of Massachusetts, but did you know there was a day of Thanksgiving celebrated more than 55 years before the Pilgrims ever set foot in America? Pedro Menendez established the first permanent European settlement in what we now call America in 1565, and that settlement is what we know as St Augustine, Florida today. Menendez and his followers celebrated a mass of thanksgiving for their safe arrival. This event is re-enacted each year on the 8th of September. But whether you celebrate your Thanksgiving with Pilgrim hats and Massachusetts Native Americans or with the Spanish settlers of St Augustine in mind, thanking God for the blessings in your lives, the food on your table, the football game on television, a job, a home, family and friends, it might also be good to remember who else you need to be thankful for.
Just two weeks ago, we stopped to pay tribute to the men and women of our military, past and present, for their sacrifices in the name of freedom and the ideal of America. Remember them again on this day of Thanksgiving. If your elderly aunt collapses with a stroke and is rushed to the hospital or you choke on a turkey bone, remember to be thankful for the hospital and the men and women who will be there to administer the kind of medical care you have come to expect in America. Be thankful for the men and women who are eating their turkey at the firehouse, just in case someone needs them at a moment’s notice to put out a house fire, or the EMTs who are ready to rush to the site of traffic accident. Be thankful for all the doctors and nurses in hospitals and nursing homes who are working on this day, caring for those who are not able to care for themselves. Be thankful for the priest or minister who is sitting at the bedside of someone who is close to leaving this world, or who is offering what solace he or she can to someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one. Be thankful for the law enforcement individuals who give up this time with their families to protect you and yours. Be thankful for the airline, train, bus and local public transportation people who worked today to help you get to your destination on time for dinner. Be thankful for the clerk at the local convenience store who rang up your purchase of something you forget to get earlier or the person who served up a cup of hot coffee for a policeman on his beat. Everywhere around you, on this day of celebration and feasting, there are people working to keep your world running, to protect you, and to serve you.
I will be eating way more than I should, watching football on television most likely, and enjoying having all my family around me, but in the midst of that, I can never forget that the God who gave me life, also gave me all these other people to make my life worth living. Years ago, my youngest daughter was born on Thanksgiving. When I arrived at the hospital there were nurses and clerks who welcomed me, processed my arrival and made me comfortable. My doctor had to leave his family and his dinner to deliver my baby and later, when I hemorrhaged, he had to come back to save my life. I was fortunate in the days that followed to meet the orderly who wheeled me to surgery and have a chance to thank him. I also met the nurse who was called over from a different floor who sat with my husband while I was in surgery, but how many others were there that day who had a part in my care? Even the ordinary people who had donated the blood I so urgently needed will remain forever unknown. But every Thanksgiving I remember how fortunate I was to be living where I do, to have had the care I received and I thank each and every one of those who God sent my way that day.
So, enjoy this holiday. Say thank you to your God for your life and your blessings, say thank you to your families and friends for being part of your life, and if you have a chance, say thank you to all those unknown individuals who make your life possible.