Thanksgiving has always been a big deal with the Stern Gang. For years we’ve alternated between big family multi-generational gatherings and festivities with dear friends from Tulsa. There’s lots of food, fun, laughter, singing, and joy.
This year our Thanksgiving experience has been attenuated by Covid time and the restrictions it slapped on us. This year we had hoped to celebrate Thanksgiving with Liza’s dad, Herb. All kinds of work around plans were being carefully reviewed, even as the CDC warnings grew tougher and scarier. But he did not live long enough to make it to the table. We are left with the gratitude and appreciation we had wanted to show him.
Psychologists studying gratitude note that being grateful means much more than just saying thank you. Not only is the experience and expression of gratitude broader than thanking others but it requires … a set of complex socio-emotional skills. For example, researchers at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Greensboro argue that gratitude involves perspective taking and emotional knowledge, skills that children begin to develop … around ages three to five.
This Thanksgiving has been, more than ever, about perspective taking. This is the right time for looking around and realizing how lucky we are, despite the limits imposed upon us by law and circumstance. This is the time to relish the moment.
There are differing philosophies on the appreciation of the moment. Liza quotes a friend’s mother, who once said, at age 90 something, “Don’t worry; it only gets worse.” Yes, phenomenologically one could objectively say that getting very old is not big fun. This casts the future as a successively darker journey as we age – and that’s without cataracts. It makes it difficult to appreciate the journey.
I’m not saying, to quote Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t worry, be happy.” I am saying that I want to be thankful for this moment I’m living in, despite the truth of my decrepitude and obsolescence. It’s not “no, but”, it’s “yes, and.”
There is a Japanese tradition called Mono-no aware: the ephemeral nature of beauty – the quietly elated, bittersweet feeling of having been witness to the dazzling circus of life – knowing that none of it can last. It’s basically about being both saddened by and appreciative of transience – and also about the relationship between life and death.
This is what we have right now, this moment. And in this moment there is pain and sadness and the looming unknown. And that will always be so, on one level or another.
But there is also the beauty of a new day. There is the beauty of memory and hope. We have music and art no matter what darker issues lurk around us at the same time. And we have each other.
As a young child, I had a kaleidoscope. I loved it! I stared into it for hours. Well, it felt like hours… Sometime I would see a phenomenal pattern. I don’t know what made it so special, but it caught my attention. And then I tried to figure out how to get the same pattern back again. I’d shake it, turn it quickly, and anxiously look, again and again. But no matter what I did, I could never recapture that pattern, that moment.
It was a waste of time trying to get back to where I had been. Not only was it frustrating, it was futile. And another thing: it was a total waste of time. As I frantically attempted to find the lost pattern, I wasn’t seeing the beauty playing out in front of me. All I wanted was, by the very nature of physics and statistical probability, impossible.
On this Thanksgiving weekend, I am deeply grateful for the time I’ve had and all that comes next. I do occasionally yearn for some beautiful moments of the past, but that’s what memory is for. I give thanks for the ability to keep turning the kaleidoscope that’s right in front of me, filled with so much potential beauty. Along with all of the tragic, monstrous moments of 2020, I have experienced extraordinary meaningful moments: moments of connection, of love, of community, of healing.
Here’s to, “yes, and.” Here’s to you and our kaleidoscope.