On Wednesday, they will begin arriving from near and far – Illinois, Virginia, Maryland, South Carolina, and Georgia. They will come, these brothers, sisters, wives, cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents, all representing a variety of professions: engineers, accountants, businessmen, a teacher, an information specialist, a personal trainer, a writer. Some are students in middle school, one is a high school senior, several are in college, and a few have recently graduated. There is a beautiful boy with autism, a Papa who is 87 years old and bringing a homemade cherry pie, a Nonno who will soon get a brand new knee, and a Nonna who brings her Italian heritage into this very American holiday by offering an espresso with your pumpkin pie.
That’s a lot of family, and while we are a cohesive group, we are still individuals with ideas, passions, and opinions; in other words, we don’t agree on everything and, in fact, often have polar viewpoints on issues dealing with religion, politics, and world affairs. So when our family gathers, it’s hectic; we are loud, opinionated, loving, and competitive, and not unlike families everywhere, it isn’t always perfect.
And yet, it is. Thanksgiving reminds us of this. In all the running around we do to live our lives, and despite all those things that make life messy and chaotic – work, politics, doctor’s appointments, sports practices, exams, job interviews – it’s nice to have a day in which the only thing that matters is sitting down and breaking bread together.
And having one more slice of that pumpkin pie.
So, this weekend my husband and I will tackle our to-do lists in preparation to host our families. We will pull out board games and wash guest towels and plan activities; we will keep fingers crossed for good weather and prepare for sons coming home from college; and we will print out our family’s Thanksgiving prayer for everyone to read aloud. It’s a special prayer, written by Lino Villacha, and my mother became pen pals with Lino through her best friend who was, for many years, a missionary in Brazil. Lino’s poem, Obrigado Senhor, is a prayer thanking God for everything he had – and when you read his words in light of the fact that he suffered with leprosy and lived in poverty, it puts things in perspective.
In his poem Lino thanks God for healthy limbs when so many are crippled; for a voice that sings when many are mute; for hands that work when so many have to beg; and for a home to return to when so many don’t know where they are going. And as we read the poem reminding us to celebrate what we have instead of focusing on what we don’t, it’s always the last two lines which capture the essence of Thanksgiving: It is wonderful, Lord, to have so little to ask/And so much to be thankful for.
To which the only response for all of us holding hands around the table this Thanksgiving will be a heartfelt and very humble, Amen.