Thanksgiving: Taking Nothing for Granted

by Melannie Svoboda SND on November 24, 2014

I was touring Arches National Park in Utah several years ago with some friends. Everywhere we looked we saw incredible rock formations: graceful arches, soaring spires, towering pinnacles, each one clamoring for our attention, each one eliciting our awe. 

archesAfter several hours we were literally exhausted by the veritable “onslaught of beauty.” As we were driving out of the park, one of my friends gestured toward a huge rock along the side of the road, a somewhat “ordinary” one compared to some of the others we had seen, but, in truth, a very extraordinary rock. He said, “Now if that rock were suddenly lifted up and transported to central Ohio, people would come from miles around just to see it. But here, among so many other incredible rocks, it barely gets noticed.”

My friend was right. His remark made me wonder: is too much of a beautiful thing too much for us humans to take in? Similarly, is too much of a good thing, too much for us? Is our inclination to take things for granted our human way of coping with too much beauty, too much goodness, too much truth? One of my favorite poems by Emily Dickinson begins with these words: “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant.” Dickinson is not advocating lying. She is saying that too much truth is “too bright for our infirm eyes.” Too much truth would make us blind.

arches arch

The truth is: Existence is extraordinary! It is wonderful, marvelous, incredible, amazing, astounding, awesome. (I’m running out of words. I might have to grab my Thesaurus!) If we were really aware of the wonder and beauty of existence, of life, of the flora and fauna of planet earth, of the deep goodness in other people, of the deep goodness in ourselves—we wouldn’t get any work done! We would be stumbling along in a religious trance caused by the overwhelming realization of God’s goodness reflected everywhere. Maybe our taking-things-for-grantedness is a coping mechanism. It insures our survival. (Someone will cook the turkey!) But I think we must break out of our dullness on a regular basis and really experience existence—or we miss out on life. We miss out on God too!

In Betty Smith’s book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, we read: “Look at everything as though you were seeing it either for the first time or the last sunset watertime. Then your time on earth will be filled with joy.” There’s real wisdom in that. If you knew, for example, that tonight was going to be the last pretty sunset there would ever be, wouldn’t you make time to watch it? Or if you were hearing a flute for the very first time, wouldn’t you be enthralled by its strains? Or if this strawberry pictured below was the first strawberry you had ever seen, wouldn’t you marvel at its shape, texture, and color? Wouldn’t you take time to savor its sweetness?

strawberry

This week we celebrate Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. I am very grateful that our country and many other countries have set aside one special day a year to focus on giving thanks to God for all our blessings. It is a day that reminds us to take nothing for granted. President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving Day a National Holiday on October 3, 1863 in the midst of the terrible Civil War. The timing of his proclamation is a lesson for us. We don’t have to have a perfect world to give thanks. We don’t have to be without pain or sorrow to be grateful. On this day, no matter what our circumstances, we pause to appreciate or re-appreciate everything like family, friends, food, sunlight, water, clean air, music, cats, dogs, whales, trees, flowers, apples, rocks, and stars. And we give thanks to God for all these gifts—especially for the gift of being itself.

Here is a beautiful thanksgiving song called “Thankful” by Josh Groban. It is my way of saying thank you to all of you for reading and responding to my blog. I am grateful for each one of you! (Just click on the song and enjoy.)

 

 

happy thanksgiving

What are you particularly grateful for this Thanksgiving?

Try looking at something as if you were seeing it for the first or the last time?  Did anything happen when you did this?

NOTE: Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. I will post my Advent reflection on Sunday, November 30 instead of on Monday, December 1.

 

 

 

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Shauna Bankemper November 24, 2014 at 2:39 am

Happy Thanksgiving, Melannie! Thank you for the inspiring article and concluding song. I am thankful for you and the gift of your weekly blog. You continually touch my heart and soul. Blessings!

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Kathleen Magiera November 24, 2014 at 5:36 am

Thanks for the beautiful song Sr. Melannie! It made me cry.

This past week the Buffalo area where I live was buried in an extraordinary blizzard and now we have flooding. I am so thankful to live near the “City of Good Neighbors” where folks go out of their way over and over again to selflessly help each other. What a blessing!

Kathleen

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Loraine Strombeck November 24, 2014 at 9:17 am

This reflection made my day! I will be the change even in the little things. God bless you and Happy Thanksgiving…

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Jennifer November 24, 2014 at 9:56 am

Beautiful!! Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving!

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Kate Hine, SND November 24, 2014 at 9:57 am

Thank you, Melannie for this beautiful reflection! I’m going to share it with my directees.

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Dorothy Janofsky November 24, 2014 at 10:26 am

God bless you, Sr Melanie. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Jeanie November 24, 2014 at 11:32 am

This song fit my mood today. I’m missing my mom who died 5 years ago. Josh Groban was one of her favorites. In answer to your question, it may sound strange, but I know if my mom were alive today she would be concerned about me living in a Catholic Worker house embracing voluntary ‘poverty’ (but nothing compared to the homeless and hungry we serve). So I’m grateful, that even though I miss her, she looks upon me from the heavens and gets it. She can be my angel and in knowing what she knows now, and I trust she understands my choice from her vantage point. Thanks for your thoughts and your question, Melannie.

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Diane November 24, 2014 at 11:56 am

So much to be thankful for, especially music, love of family, and a special little boy who is turning two on Thanksgiving day. I am sending him a video on YouTube called “Look at the World”, By John Rutter (Cambridge singers version, with photos) because he loves the whole world, the animals, nature. Maybe you’d like to watch it too. It makes me feel so grateful every time…
Thanks for your love and inspiration!

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Joy November 24, 2014 at 12:22 pm

When my focus is thankfulness…the negative has no room…
isn’t that the Best!!!!

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Josita November 24, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Dear Melannie,
I love the song and will use it at our Thansgiving Day prayer.
I am most grateful for the awareness of God’s uncondtional love for me and thank God for the love of family and friends.
I thank God for you, and wish you a blessed and joyful Thanksgiving.

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Dorothy November 24, 2014 at 2:16 pm

Sr. Melannie,
Thank you for your blog… It inspires me so much. Thru all the toils & tears in life there is happiness if we only search for it.
God Bless & Happy Thanksgiving.

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Cheryl Zellhoefer November 24, 2014 at 3:04 pm

Dear Sr. Melannie,
I was in your English class at Notre Dame and graduated in 1976. You are still teaching me through your blog and this song is absolutely perfect for this time of year (or anytime!!)
I will share it with my Youth Group leader and catechists.

Thank you!

Cheryl (Dotter) Zellhoefer

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florence November 24, 2014 at 4:19 pm

hank you Sr. Melannie for todays inspirational message.It was good for me to hear your thoughts and the lovely song. I am beginning to feel like going on to good things and still keep my wonderful husband in my life although he is no longer here.

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Christina Ross November 24, 2014 at 9:10 pm

Dear Sr. Melannie,
As always grateful for your “Sunflower Seeds”.

Betty Smith’s “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” was a favorite of mine as a young girl. When reading the quote from the book ” Look at everything as though you were seeing it either for the first time or the last time. Then your life on earth will be filled with joy.” The quote reminded me of the closing thoughts I heard many years ago from a priest for his homily, “each time you receive the Eucharist, receive in your heart as though it is the first time or maybe the last time.” I am paraphrasing, but I try to remember those thoughts as I receive the precious gift of our Lord Jesus Christ in Holy Communion.

God Bless and Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

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Ann Kennedy November 24, 2014 at 9:17 pm

At a time when all the bad news has been overwhelming me, ebola, ISIS and its successful propaganda misleading thousands of young people to fight and perpetrate such horrific acts of inhumanity, Syria and the unending violence all over the Middle East, our latest elections which make me so fearful for the prospects of the 99% in our country, especially the poor and the unemployed, the dysfunction in our government, and on and on, your blog today has given me hope and changed my overwhelmed perspective into a joyful, positive perspective. Thank you Sister Melannie! I love the way you concluded your blog, and it may be just the way to focus our dinner truly on Thanksgiving. With the presence at our Thanksgiving table of a man from Sierra Leone who brings home to us the horrors his countrymen are enduring, I am so thankful for our healthcare system, as flawed as it is, and for living in this country where we individually may consider ourselves to be limited in our resources, when in reality we are rich beyond measure compared to so many others. Thank you again for your thoughtful insights. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Carolyn Montgomery November 26, 2014 at 10:14 am

Thank you so much for your post and Josh Groban’s song! It is good to remember to be thankful today with all the strife in our country. Thanks again & Happy Thanksgiving!

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Diane Butler November 29, 2014 at 11:02 am

Loved this one new perspective thanks Sr Melanie Hope you had some time to rest

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