In keeping with our theme, we'll be chatting about having an "attitude of gratitude" and will be exploring the gracious art of expressing thanks. We'll be addressing tendencies towards complaining, comparing and criticizing. We'll focus on St Paul's frequent exhortations to give thanks in all circumstances. We'll reflect on the Eucharist as "thanks-giving". We'll each write a note of thanks to some person in our life who deserves our heartfelt gratitude - but possibly has never received it. And then we'll have An All-Out American Thanksgiving Feast. Most of the youth have never tasted pumpkin pie...but they're going to! (But only after they've enjoyed some turkey & stuffing.) To top it all off, the third annual SetFree national youth conference will coincide with the last weekend of the school term. It's going to be an intense couple of months!
On a more sombre note, my uncle passed away a few weeks ago and hearing accounts of his memorial service has given me occasion to wonder why it is that we wait until after a person is deceased to totally and publicly focus on their best qualities, their most admirable contributions and their finest moments. So I'd like to take this opportunity to publicly give thanks to the two people in life that we will soon be asking the youth to specially consider for an outpouring of gratitude: mother and father.
To My Father - thank you for instilling in me a positive work ethic. I didn't realize until I was very very grown up that not everyone enjoys working hard. My dad does. I do. He never once lectured or directed me to work hard at anything - neither academics, nor chores, nor part time jobs (not even when he was my boss and the success of some his goals depended partly on my willing commitment to excellent work). So there were no words that transmitted this virtue, only example. He works hard at his responsibilities and in so doing, gave me the unshakeable impression that it was the only decent thing to do with my responsibilities. This unspoken lesson has served me so well in every scholarly, professional and personal role I have ever held that it would be unforgivable to not offer him my most heartfelt thanks. Secondly, I have always - since earliest childhood - been floored by my father's ability to make tremendous sacrifice for others .... and not to seek (or even accept, really) recognition for those sacrifices. I remember being amazed by it even as a tiny girl but as I got older I observed it more frequently and more deeply. I wish I had "caught" this quality of his as easily as I did the other! But it is my goal for life to grow in this ability and I have an amazing model to recall before my mind's eye. Some particular moments of my dad's quiet habit of self-sacrifice unraveled whole mysteries of life to me, helping me to grasp deeply that real love puts the "other" first, even at great cost to "self". They say you often subconsciously imagine God to be like your own dad. My dad truly revealed to me the sacrificial nature of Love. That's the whole key to accepting Christianity (to say nothing of living it). And my dad showed me what that looks like, practically, in big ways and small ways, every day.
To My Mother - thank you for giving me such a well-rounded childhood. This is something that I was often most ungracious about as the child who would have preferred to be left alone to read - or play with her millipede farm. I certainly never recognized the volume of effort required by my mother's goal - or the importance of the endeavor - until becoming a parent myself. Now whenever I want to ensure that my own children are getting a well-rounded upbringing, I have only to imitate the educational and cultural experiences that characterized my early years. Those experiences made me capable of leading a richer life, enabled me to enjoy the legitimate pleasures of the world, freed me from certain types of fear and ignorance and rendered me capable and at ease in myriad situations. There were abundant outings to fine ballets and plays, to tent campsites and to tiny lakeside cabins. We visited museums and historical sites and attended sporting events. There were regular nature hikes, swim teams, piano lessons and horseback riding. We went downhill skiing and water skiing. I had laundry duties by age 11 and part-time jobs by age 15. I was expected to shoulder reasonable but challenging financial responsibilities and academic standards from a relatively young age. (For this, I might have pitied myself then but I am well aware now of how it prepared me to be competent and confident in the real world.) Also we had lots and lots of pets. This perhaps was best of all, for I enjoyed those animals so much that nearly nothing in appreciation is gained in the looking back. Which bring me to the second thing that I appreciate much more now about my mother - her tolerance for the noise and chaos and mess that young children (and their pets) visit upon a home. There cannot be five cats, three (escaping) hamsters, a 120 pound Labrador, three children and an upcoming camping trip coexisting neatly and serenely under one roof. It is impossible. And most women would simply never put up with it. My mother's ease with the noise is as much a challenge to me as my father's ease with sacrifice. May I grow in both!