Here in Port Washington we have a Community Interfaith Thanksgiving Service, organized by a group composed of every religious leader in town, and open for all to attend.
It is one of many things for which I am grateful.
Every year, I see dozens of friends and acquaintances I might not run into for weeks, ordinarily; and if I don’t come early enough to catch up with them before the service, there’s always time in between platefuls of the bountiful desserts served after.
This year was no different — except that, thanks to the incredibly difficult year we’ve all been through, I needed friends, and Thanksgiving, more than ever.
Politics and news have been horrible, of course. It remains a constant shock to see that, just when you are sure people cannot behave any worse, they somehow summon the strength to sink lower still.
Which is why one moment of the recent Election Night stood out for me, in contrast.
No, not when I heard the results. Before that. It was the moment when, after 17 hours’ work helping to run a local polling place, I handed my Election District’s data over to our Police Department.
I suddenly realized that all of us, whatever our parties, were handing our results in to the same Police Department — and then would all go home and get a good night’s sleep. It’s a small but remarkable thing, for which I am grateful.
I thought about that again tonight, when everyone stood and sang every verse of “America the Beautiful,” to conclude the service. No one had told us to “Stand” — but people wanted to anyway, and so, row by row, starting from the back, people did.
The words were all on the song sheet, but I couldn’t sing — I was overcome, remembering a time when civic agreement on things like this would not seem remarkable.
Now, each one feels like a great accomplishment. Rather than mourn the past, I choose to be grateful.
Before the service, as we stood chatting, one friend had given me some other food for thought. He and his wife have just returned from a trip to East Africa, which they both described to me as “life-changing.”
“Imagine this,” said the husband. “You take your entire net worth — everything that’s in the bank, your mortgage, your car — and convert it into cattle.
Then you put all of them in the hands of a 5 year old, to take two miles down the road and look after all day. That’s it! Your whole net worth, in the hands of a 5-year-old!” Our lives here are so complicated, by comparison; but do they need to be?
I thought about this for the rest of the service, when not distracted by the eloquent preaching and beautiful songs.
It reminded me of a moment that happened in the first week of my second child’s life. I had promised a colleague that I would help them with a project that had such an urgent deadline, it could not be moved, not even for my first week home with a new baby.
“We’ll pay for a nanny,” they said; and as it happened, someone else I knew, who had a wonderful nanny, was going on vacation that very week, leaving their nanny miraculously free.
And so, reluctantly, I handed my toddler and new baby over, for a few hours of every day, to someone else’s care.
On the first day of this new regime, I got the baby, the toddler, and the nanny all ready to head to the local park. I stood in the driveway and watched them as they walked around the corner and out of sight.
Only then did it occur to me — did I have the keys, so I could get back into my house and start the all-important project? Or had I given them to the nanny?
I looked down. The keys were in my hand. I held the keys to the kingdom — but it was an empty kingdom. Everything that mattered had just walked away.
They all came back, soon enough, and the rest of that week flew by; but it was a never-to-be-forgotten reminder of the difference between what really matters, and what only seems to.
So my prayer of thanksgiving is very simple, this year. I pray for the wisdom to know what is truly important, and to be grateful for that — and for the strength to let all the rest go.
That, and a Happy Thanksgiving for all of you.