The table is laden with delectable delights, its settings beautifying the room and adding to the festive glow.
The family is laughing and playing. Old and young sit side by side, harmoniously praying. Everyone is getting along fine, enjoying the day and the traditional display. What a great Thanksgiving Day.
(If this scene doesn't sound much like your family, keep reading.)
There are many people who enjoy the Hallmark-card quality of the holidays such as the one mentioned above. They have families that are strong, who like spending time together, and who regularly converse on levels that make each member feel heard and appreciated.
However, others can only dream of the peaceful scene of a family connected and loving over the holidays. They face the season with bittersweet longing, stress, the memories of lost loved ones.
A friend recently told me that the Thanksgiving table was truly a symbol of the ideal family, something we all need and long for, but don't always experience. We discussed how the warmth that the table uniquely brings is related to the idea of a family hearth.
The original hearth was the base of the fireplace that warmed the whole house. It became a symbol of the heart of family life. It was where we all gathered to take in warmth, eat, talk, laugh, and enjoy life together.
Today, the kitchen is new hearth, with the table as its center.
Perhaps this Thanksgiving Day, a time to celebrate and give thanks to God for all that we have been given, can be a doorway to new ways to appreciate family, friends, and life. Perhaps a hearth can be any symbolic place where one can find comfort in what is less than ideal.
I recently held a Giving Thanks gathering in which people were asked to tell an encouraging story, sing a song, read a poem, etc. that told a personal story of gratefulness. One woman told of surviving 20 months of unemployment and illness, citing several miraculous occurrences along the way.
Another told of several surgeries, operations that should have left her with far less mobility than she actually has. She was grateful for her activity levels and health.
Others closed their eyes and sang their hearts out. One woman who after giving birth to a beautiful daughter, wrote in her journal about how happy she was although she was still suffering some complex physical consequences of the delivery.
The stories of thanksgiving all had some level of suffering attached to them. They chose to give thanks in the midst of the struggle, to have faith, to keep believing, to do what needed to be done, and in the end they were rewarded.
They had somehow found a spiritual hearth, a place to focus what little warmth could be found in their chilly circumstances. They chose to sit close and appreciate what it brought to them.
So this Thanksgiving, let's forget about someone else's ideal for a wonderful holiday, and let's celebrate whatever small glowing ember we can find in the midst of a small fire. Let's choose something to be thankful for, and forget the rest for just a little while.
Tabi Upton, MA-lpc, is a counselor at Richmont/CBI Counseling Center. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.