Putting the Thanks into Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day means a lot of things to different people. It’s a day of stress, of family get togethers, watching football games, hanging lights, planning out the shopping, drawing names and of course, eating turkey.

Somewhere in all that we try to think about all that we’ve got, how fortunate our lives have been, and immerse ourselves in gratitude. Because when you sit down and think about it, each of our lives truly are blessed. It’s downright sad that the bulk of the holiday season is all about “what more can I get” than “you know, I’ve really got more than what I need.”

I mean, for God’s sake, you can buy anything with a couple of clicks of a mouse these days. I’ve gotten to the point where, if I need it, I buy it. If I don’t really need it, I’ll pass.

I wouldn’t say I’m non-materialistic, but when asked to write up a list of what I would like for Christmas, it was a struggle. Most of what I wrote down is what I’ve put on that list for the last 15 years. And when Christmas Day rolls around, when all the wrapping paper has been ripped off, I’ll have some nice holiday bonuses to enjoy. But as far as importance, those gifts are near the bottom.

As I get older, some of the most precious gifts to me are time. Time spent with people I care about, from college buddies of long ago, to friends and family that I just don’t see that much anymore. As you read in a recent blog, I lost a cousin a couple of weeks back–a cousin I didn’t even know I had until three years ago. I’ll tell you, she’s come to mind quite a bit lately, because dammit, we just weren’t given enough time together. If I could have had anything for Christmas this, just one thing, it would have been to have one more sit down with Diane.

That’s probably why the Facebook post of a longtime radio friend that I read yesterday really hit home with me. Sean and I worked together briefly a long time ago, back when radio was still in black and white. We’ve both lived lifetimes since we last saw each other and while I lament the passing of my cousin, he’s still absorbing what it’s like to lose a child. 

 

Last year was to be the first Apple Cup in 20 years I watched without Griffin by my side. It will instead be this Friday. Again, in the interest of transparency, our shared experience was less shared than an experience when it came to watching the Apple Cup. For the last ten years or so, Griffin spent nearly the whole game on his phone, WhatsApp-ing with who knows who whilst I watched every play with the intensity of a dog watching its owner slowly fill its dog dish with the evening kibble. Griffin’s experience of the Apple Cup was via replay: my overly emotional reactions cueing him to look up from his phone to watch the replay. For the first several years that he had his phone, it nearly ruined the game for me. I’d look over at him, hunched over his phone and mutter just audibly enough, “Cougar loving Duck fan can’t be bothered to watch the frigging game.” But over time I resigned myself to the fact that this was way we shared our passion for the Dawgs, shared memories one replay at a time. I’ve pondered over why the holidays are so difficult a time for those of us who have lost a loved one and why it is possibly trebly hard for those who have lost a child. The only answer I’ve come up with is space. The holidays offer us an opportunity to slow things down at work and school and create more space for reflection, relationships and fellowship. That space becomes a yawning breach when one of those for whom it is designed is no longer with us. Our reflections project into the present and worse yet the future as we transpose memories of holidays past on to holidays future and grieve the loss of both. Sadly, ironic in this for me is my own tendency during past holidays to watch time speed up as the stress of making every memory special drained them of joy, and filled that space with missed expectations and crooked Christmas trees. And I don’t think I’m alone in this. When our Christmas ad season now begins in late September something has definitely gotten a little out of whack societally. The pressure to make our holidays look like our favorite movies (or at least like the Home Depot commercials) is very real and very unrealistic. We press a year’s worth of entertainment into 20 days all while trying to encapsulate (and dress up) our family’s victories over the past year in our Christmas letter (assuming we remembered to snap the holiday photo when we were on Vacation in August). So, as we approach this holiday season, our second without the one person in our family who seemed to have the season in its proper perspective, let’s make a promise to one another. Let’s allow ourselves to be the imperfect beings we are. Let’s celebrate the lean the Christmas tree is taking to the right. Let’s allow our kids to build their memories their way, if only via replay. Let’s skip that seventh Christmas party and walk the neighborhood and look at the lights with our family. Let’s write a Christmas letter that tells it like it really happened. And certainly, let’s at the very least make some time to sit and be quiet in the space the season allows and hear what’s there is to be heard.

I’m pretty sure that’s what Griffin would recommend

 

And if your eyes are a little moist right now, you might as well read Sean’s message to his late son on what would have been his 23rd birthday

Meanwhile, back at the holiday, when you find surrounded by Thanksgiving this Thursday, be present. Take in those moments and store them in your brain like a fine wine. Because the older you get, they’re the things you’ll cherish a lot more than anything that makes it on to your Christmas list.

Happy Thanksgiving. And thanks for being out there for me.

Tim Hunter

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