During my Junior High School years (remember Junior High?) My parents placed me under the tutelage of an old, retired teacher, named Mrs. Lee. Mrs Lee, a great grand daughter of the famous Southern general Robert E. Lee, lived adjacent to my school in a large yellow antebellum mansion that was itself a bit mysterious for a young southern boy.
Mrs. Lee was a pint size jolly septuagenarian lady with silver hair and an infectious laugh. She had been a grade schoolteacher in her time and had developed special skills for teaching young persons how to read and continued tutoring kids long into retirement.
The house had tall slender windows with open panes that let in the light revealing flowery tattered wallpaper of an earlier era that revealed its age and the care of its owner. I usually arrived early for lesson, and was allowed to rummage around exploring nooks and crannies, trinkets and memorabilia on display or tucked at the end of shelves in her burgeoning bookcases.
I literally loved going there and being allowed to explore before getting down to the business at hand. One day, I can remember, I discovered a large square cabinet in the adjacent room. On its front were two long cabinet doors and a crank on its right side. Unable to restrain my curiosity I carefully opened the two vertical doors revealing an ornate grill framing oblong cotton cover. Addional inspection revaled that the cabinet top lifted from the front. Peering in I saw what should have been a turntable, but was more like a round tray with a ¼ inch high rim. Just to the right of the tray there was an arm like a phonograph but it had no needle, I could not figure out what this odd player would work. It was different from any I had ever seen. Confused, I asked Mrs. Lee when she enter the room to start the lesson.
“O honey,” she laughingly replied, “That’s an old Victrola phonograph, record player.”
“This does not appear to be able to play,” I replied.
“O, its been that way for years,” she continued, “One day years ago it just stopped working. There are some records in the lower cabinet under the speaker.”
I curiously assessed the apparatus before me once again. I discovered the circular tray was not tray at all. It was the turntable on the old machine. Years before someone had turned the playing surface upside down and left it. Mrs. Lee, not mechanically inclined, left it that way. To her mind it had stopped working. It was broken. I inverted the turntable and it fit perfectly. I turned the crank to wind the drive spring, found an old 78 record and inserted a wooden needle discovered in a small compartment. These adjustments completed, the old phonograph played as it had years before.
“That’s wonderful!” laughed Mrs Lee. I can hear those records once again.” She was like a child with a new toy. She began to rummage through the old hard discs locating music she thought had been lost to her. It was so much fun and I felt like my limited understanding of electronics had truly been useful that day. In the weeks that followed, she would recall with sheer joy how thankful she was at the return to function of her phonograph. I heard her comments as personal gratitude for what I had done.
Have you ever received gratitude for something YOU have done for another? Certainly, you have. Such grateful responses come as moments of great celebration and empowerment. You feel valuable to others and encouraged to do even more.
Thanksgiving is an annual national celebration of just that, GIVING THANKS, for what has been done for us. Ancestors who stuck it out. Weathering hardships most of us can not fathom in order to settle this new land and raise families that would see it as home. Every step we take, we are supported by the life-giving efforts of others who have gone before.
Our weekly services of worship are actually times to pause, in our ever busying routine, to give thanks for the circles of caring and empowerment within which we live. Not just those we can list when we put our mind in gear, but the myriad relationships which we daily continue to take for granted or even those of which we are unable to be aware.
Mrs. Lee helped me experience the empowering feeling of being on the receiving end as someone to whom thanks is given. When you receive thanks, it is like loose ends are somehow tied together. When someone thanks me for something that I have done, it is as though they have validated the relationship, even if I had no ulterior motive in helping out.
A typical response these days, when someone else thanks us for something that we have done, is to quip off, “No problem.” We say “No problem,” rather than you are welcome or glad to do it, or something more relational. I have tried to eliminate this glycerin like expression from my responses for that reason. I suppose, when that is said, it is an attempt not to encumber the other with a sense of obligation. But along with it we eliminate the notion of value that is also implied. If you are someone of value to me, knowing that our relationship is worth investing in is a good thing. My response then is a way of affirming the value of our relationship and by extension, you as a person.
The same holds true in one’s relationship with God. The Hebrew idea of thanksgiving involved a recognition that God was the sole source of power in ones life. It’s a way of recognizing the value of the relationship as an important source and resource in our lives.
At Thanksgiving we remember the early stories of survival recounted by our genetic and spiritual ancestors. We recognize that we are NOT SELF-MADE PERSONS. Our lives are built on the dedication, sacrifices, genetics and spiritual contributions of other persons, often others who will, of necessity, remain nameless to us. Even those of us who have drawn on our own abilities, resources or achievements. We are eternal recipients of the contributions of others even if we don’t know who to personally thank.
Thus, Thanksgiving is not just a national celebration, its not just proper etiquette, it is lifelong state of mind we are invited to cultivate. Thanksgiving suggests THANKS LIVING. It is a recognition of the essential relationships that feed and empower our lives daily.
And so, may I invite you on this Thanksgiving, even if it is over a burger at a fast-food franchise. To join me and think on these things. OK?
Thank you, and
You are welcome.