Wednesday, November 23, 2011

How To Be Grateful On Thanksgiving

In the movies, the holidays goes one of two ways.  It's either "I Never Realized How Good I Had It" --slow mo shots that capture each and every family member at their very best. Or it's "ARGH!" -- total chaos, complicated by lots of family conflicts and competing desires, which in the beginning of the film is awful but by the end has come back to "I Never Realized How Good I Had It."

Ok, this isn't what I was imagining, but you get the point.

But in life, there's at least one more option, "NOOOOOOOO"/'WHOOSH." That's where the holiday churns back and forth between going way too slow (my God, can we stop talking about what's in the gravy and what's wrong with the Democratic party) and going way too fast (Can we say grace mmm, that was delicious see you next year).  It's basically God-as-infant messing with the playing speed.

Is there any way to seize back the controls and appreciate the holiday/your family/your life while it's actually happening? A pretty tall order.

But not impossible (says the priest who basically shows up and eats). What if dinner began with a little bit of silence, in which people were asked to just settle in and get in touch with what they're grateful for this year. That might seem a hard thing to sell, but you know what, if you tell people to do something well intentioned, they'll try to do it. Believe me, I've taken that risk, and it works, if it's clear, simple and not nutty.  I was once at a religious seminar where we were asked to stand and imagine we were trees. That constituted a full head o' crazy.  A little silence, not so much.

I googled "People Trees" and got Hermione Granger. Huh?

That might be enough to change the tone of an evening from "Pass the spinach" and "What's up with the White Sox? Robin Ventura, really??" to something a little more personal.

Another thing to do is break up the courses somehow.  Have courses, even if all that means is have a salad separate from the meat and potatoes. If you throw all the food out on the table right from the top, it makes the whole meal move a lot faster. That might sound appealing, but after spending days preparing the food, it shouldn't be gone in 30 minutes. I know, I know, I'm shoulding on you now, but it's true. There's a lot of love in the cooking of a Thanksgiving dinner, and it should be savored.  So break it up into courses, and you might find the evening breathes more easily for everyone.  It's less a road race and more a stroll.

For those who want to venture further, why not ask people to share something that they're grateful for, or that has been big for them this year?

I know, it sounds awful. Forced sharing. It tends to give men hives. (So if you're looking for a way to punish a spouse -- tell me the turkey is dry, will you! -- this is it.) But if you model it by going first, keeping it clear, simple and not too intense, it can work. Really! People have a lot more going on than they reveal, and letting them share even just a very little of that can go a really long way to deepening everyone's appreciation for one another.

The other thing I think about sometimes is doing something fun after dinner. Breaking it up from the meal somehow -- go to a different room, or have a big breather before dessert. And maybe doing something a little more group-oriented. A game (I highly recommend Mafia!), a movie together, maybe little entertainments by different folks, if you're that kind of group.

If you're looking for a Thanksgiving movie, 
You can't do better than Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Or even just the moving into another room.  It's amazing how much can shift and change just by getting up and moving over 20 feet into another room. It's like the things that settled inside get loose.

Ok, that's probably too loose.

Many years I have the luxury of taking some time on Thanksgiving to just sit and ask God, where were you this year? What blessings have you given me? Who are the people who have been good to me? Maybe you have time for that, too, but maybe not.

But that's not to say you can't actually have that sense of gratitude in the living of the day.  It just takes some experimentation.

Well, maybe not test tube experimentation.

Yeah, definitely not that either. 

Do you have special practices you do with your family, or that you've seen elsewhere?  Share them in the comments, please!

And have a very blessed Thanksgiving.  As we say in the McDermott household, Gobble gobble.

It's actually a little underwhelming, isn't it?


Michelle said...

For a few years now we've been gathering for dessert at a friend's house. Her extended family, my extended family, and a meal that spans a bit more time and space than the usual meal with teens.

I had my students to dinner earlier this week and we took a moment to be silent and a moment to say "thank you" for the food and those who grew/prepared it. And they reminded me...not the other way 'round!

And there is nothing wrong with experimenting with the test tubes! I definitely find God in the lab...well, maybe not the mouse...

Jim McDermott, S.J. said...

Thanks, Michelle! Hope you had a wonderful holiday.