Thanksgiving is my favourite meal of the year. Often, the weather is spectacular. The meal we prepare is made from food grown by us or by small-scale farmers close by. Gathering family and friends around the table is always a good thing to do.
And there are leftovers. Sometimes I think I cook the original meal mostly for those, which reappear in casseroles, soups and other meals for many weeks.
Last year, we asked those who joined us around the table to share one thing they felt grateful for. It took people awhile to get started, but eventually almost everyone was able to contribute something to the conversation.
This year, as the big meal approached, I struggled to find anything I could feel grateful for. Doug Ford rules Ontario. Brett Kavanaugh is a judge on the U.S. Supreme Court. The centre-right Coalition Avenir Quebec won a significant majority in Quebec’s election and is already talking about using the now-infamous notwithstanding clause to ban public officials from wearing religious symbols. More women have been killed by men this year than in any year I can remember.
I was tempted to call the meal off.
I ran into a friend last week who asked me how I was. I commented that we are living in discouraging times, to which he replied that we have lived in discouraging times before and have emerged from them. Well, yes, I said, but this is the first time I feel so discouraged; the first time I feel no hope.
It was that lack of hope, I think, that lay at the heart of my lack of enthusiasm to share a Thanksgiving meal with others.
As I began preparations for our meal – a traditional feast including turkey, all the trimmings and, of greatest interest to our grandsons, THREE desserts plus ice cream – I decided that I needed to consciously remind myself of the many aspects of my life that are worthy of appreciation.
There are many: Minor ageing issues aside, I am in good health. I do work that I love, feels useful and more than pays the bills. I have a wonderful partner and fantastic friends. I live in a part of the world that is free from war and any significant threat of natural disaster. I spend part of each winter in the warmth and sun of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. I reap the benefits of the privilege afforded me because of my white skin and middle-class upbringing.
Bristol board and markers
While my hands were busy preparing those three desserts — apple pudding, pear strudel and pumpkin pie — my mind searched for a comfortable way to raise the issue of gratitude at our Thanksgiving gathering so we could all reflect on what we have rather than what we do not have. A gratitude tree, I thought, might be the ticket.
Plan in mind, I headed to Dollarama for supplies: four sheets of brightly coloured Bristol board and markers. My nearly seven-year-old grandson and I cut leaf shapes out of the red, yellow and orange sheets. When our guests arrived, we asked them to take some time to think about what they had to feel thankful for, to write it on a leaf and hang the leaf on the green sheet of Bristol board we had taped to the inside of the front door.
There were 13 of us in all and, by the end of the evening everyone had made a contribution to our gratitude tree which, truth be told, did not look much like a tree at all. But, when I looked at it after the youngest grandchildren were in bed, no doubt planning how they could convince us to let them have maple syrup ice cream for breakfast, the leftovers had been packed into the fridge (how did we eat most of that 18-pound turkey?) and the dishwasher was humming in the background, I saw that what we value most we already have.
My son, who loves his dogs fiercely, lost two of them this year, so his gratitude was for his remaining dog, Zoey.
A newcomer to this country was thankful for Canada.
Each of our two youngest grandsons was grateful for his brother. Others were grateful for love, family, their sanity, dinner, the upcoming legalization of recreational marijuana.
We were a diverse crew in terms of age, gender, sexual orientation and nationality, and our responses reflected that. But they also reflected some common themes that were important for me to be reminded of. Family, friends, love, safety and home are all things I have in abundance. They are also things that will sustain me through whatever lies ahead.