Sunday, November 6, 2011

Thanksgiving Lost and Found

I was just recovering from a fun Halloween with the kids and an evening of way too many Reese's peanut butter cups when my Outlook reminded me of a tree lighting the next day.  After 8:00 p.m. the door bell ringing got lighter and lighter as the trick or treaters were getting ready for bed because it was a school night.   All that Hallows eve on TV there were references to the spooky holiday.  Then the inevitable happened:  a new slew of Christmas commercials started running around 9:00 p.m. before Halloween's body was even cold (okay, granted I had tombstones on my yard, and a fake dead body that was parked next to the one that said, "I'll be back).  This grand rush to Christmas seemed to be a bit premature and annoying.  The next night, I was watching an 18 foot Christmas tree get it's first lighting to great fan fare for an event at work.  It looked beautiful and put everyone into the Christmas spirit, but what about Thanksgiving? Didn't anyone care about that holiday anymore?  I mean it's two and a half weeks away!

You hardly see commercials for Thanksgiving anymore.  Maybe that's because the industry that profits the most from it are the supermarkets - not departments stores, not toy stores, not computer stores and not car dealers.  Thanksgiving is all about food and football.  Who really needs to think about preparing the feast aside from the holiday martyrs (moms, sisters and grandparents) that volunteer to have the dinner at their house?   Thanksgiving is not about anything material - it's about being with the people you love or at least have to stomach one or twice a year to keep the family peace.   Besides, the next day is Black Friday - the greatest shopping day of the year.  Thanksgiving has now become a speed bump between Halloween and Christmas.  

Unfortunately, I think the act of giving thanks has been lost along the internet highway.  As our society has gotten more tech savvy and let's face it - more snarky - it's not cool to think about all the gifts you have and to be grateful for them.  It's easier to hide behind a laptop and send instant messages rather than talk to someone directly to hear their voice and really gauge how they're doing. It's so much easier to make snide comments on YouTube  anonymously about Lindsay Lohan or Kim Kardashian's 72-day marriage rather than praising your spouse and children for sticking it out with you.  You can share a link to a pithy saying on Facebook rather than just taking the time to actually thank the people who need thanking.   You see and hear folks being rude to each other on TV on a regular basis and unfortunately our kids are beginning to model it themselves based on the diva fits they see on Real Housewives and other reality shows.   But few programs show people taking someone's hand, looking into their eyes and just telling them how much it means to have them in their lives and making it look cool. 

I began to believe that we had lost the art of being grateful.   It's not easy to  say a heartfelt thanks to those that help us rather then just assuming that they know how we feel.   So we numb ourselves into silence hoping that we'll get appreciated without taking the step of showing it first.    So I began to wonder if with all the bad economic news, the political backbiting and negative media stories, was the United States losing it's optimism?  Were we becoming the snarkiest country on earth - unable to appreciate even the smallest things?  I was wondering if I had lost that ability myself as I struggled to deal with a recent job loss and now know first hand the anxiety that many Americans feel in this questionable job market.   

I was driving into work on my last day and listening to the Bert Show on Q100.  They had recently completed Bert's Big Thank You and had asked their listeners to hand write letters to thank every soldier serving overseas for their service so that they would know that someone took the time to tell them how much they cared.  Amber and I had done some letters through our church.  The drive had been iffy - they needed over 400,000 letters and just a week out from the deadline only had 40,000 - but human nature being what it is, a slew of letters came in that last push and they had actually received over a half a million.  Now that they had the letters, they needed volunteers to help sort them out.   Realizing that after today, I'd probably have some time on my hands, I signed up to help. 

I went to the radio station and was brought to a large room with hundreds of mail tubs full of letters.  They asked us to take a tub, count by sets of 100, and spot check the letters to make sure they were appropriate, i.e., were not greeting cards that someone had just signed, pictures without any writing on it or had anything political or inappropriate.   As I combed through my large mail tub, I saw stacks and stacks of letters from people in Atlanta, Indianapolis and Nashville - the three markets that the Bert Show presently reaches.  They were on notebook paper, construction paper, personal stationary, artwork with a note inside, etc.  A lot of the letters were from kids who expressed how proud they were of the soldiers who were helping other children overseas.  There were letters from retirement homes that expressed support as many of the residents had served in WWII and the Korean War and knew what it was like to be far away from their own families for the holidays.  Letters from mothers who prayed for the soldiers safe return to their mothers, wives and children.   Many expressed in simple terms their gratitude for the service that these brave men and women were giving to our country.   It was inspiring and humbling to see so many people pour out their hearts to these strangers - praying for them and knowing that on Thanksgiving a soldier they wrote to would read their words of love and support.   

I also loved the artwork that some of the people included in their letters.   There were a lot of drawings made by tracing a little hand and coloring it to look like a Thanksgiving turkey complete with pilgrim hat.   There were letters with kids dressed as Harry Potter who represented the soldiers and a picture of Valdemort who represented the people we were fighting.   There were also pictures of the children holding the soldiers' hands and smiling.  Perhaps the one that touched me the most, was a picture that a teenage girl who was an art student drew on the back of her letter.   It's of her giving a soldier a hug.   Her notation on the back reads:  "not finished yet, but you get it :).  Me being thankful for the soldiers."   I love the expression on their faces - it's so genuine - something Norman Rockwell would be proud of. 

I left that day feeling very proud of the people who had written those letters and of helping to sort them so that they could go overseas in time for Thanksgiving.   It seems that Americans do what we've always done:  listen for an appeal on a way to make the world better and respond the best way we can.   Do we still have problems in this country?  Hell ya, but what country doesn't?  Instead of each political party vilifying each other, let's appreciate what we have here, which is that we can talk about what's wrong with the government without being hulled into prison for having that conversation. We can be grateful that our daughters can aspire to be Secretary of State or President instead of treated like second class citizens in countries where many of our soldiers are based.  In short, I got my Thanksgiving spirit back.   

I'm grateful for what I have and plan to play that forward.   Sure my job future is uncertain, but I'm trying to look at it as a chance to reinvent myself and when I apply for a job - that is one more opportunity that I didn't know about yesterday.   If I see a serviceman in uniform, I'm going to thank them for their service to our country.   It's all any of us could do no matter which side of the political aisle you sit on.  You can hate the war, but love the warrior.  Probably the best line I saw all from those stacks of letters  was from a teenager who wrote, "Heroes don't wear capes, they wear dog tags."  That's a great line - it made me realize how much people care and for that I'm grateful -- very, very grateful. 

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