Medieval mystic Meister Eckhart gave us all the best advice on recognition. He taught, “If the only prayer you say is ‘Thank you,’ that will be enough.
Thanksgiving is the most spiritually acceptable secular holiday in America. Unlike Halloween and Valentine’s Day, it is not a pagan holiday that has morphed through Christianity and into our repertoire of American cultural holidays. It’s plain and simple. It’s a day for giving thanks, watching parades, eating turkey and watching football.
I was a clown in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade for many years, starting in 1978. Clowns are the proletariat of the parade. Being part of the parade as a clown gave me the opportunity to experience a sacred moment where the frogs were as big as the buildings and the orchestras provided the perfect musical accompaniment. Purim is supposed to do that for us Jews, and Mardi Gras in New Orleans and elsewhere is supposed to do that for Christians. Any sane faith knows that we need at least a day to step into sacred time and space and have the joy of pretending that our daily grind doesn’t deserve our full attention. Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has sadly become a reduced bustle for Broadway shows and TV cartoon characters. All good things have their time but what remains of the parade still brings me back to the life of a street clown. Never mind.
Thanksgiving also includes a ritual that simply emerged in the Eckhartian soul of Americans that doesn’t require us to become clowns or balloon handlers. It’s the ritual of starting our Thanksgiving meal by asking each guest at the table to share what they’re grateful for. It’s the perfect ritual because it’s a reminder of the deepest meaning of this American holiday that I still love with all my heart. The only problem with thanksgiving at Thanksgiving is that our lists are far too mundane and unimaginative. Almost every acknowledgment in my experience includes acknowledgments for family and food.
We all need a more creative list of things to be grateful for on Thanksgiving. The things and people who should be mentioned as crucial to our flourishing here on planet Earth just don’t get enough credit. So I challenge you to think of a list of unusual and obscure; the obscure and misunderstood and leave family/food through other families at other tables.
Here is my candidate for thanks this year: Send me yours at [email protected].
TEACHERS WHO ARE NOT TEACHERS
Who taught you the most important truth you have learned that is not a teacher (or a rabbi)? My favorite non-teacher/teacher was a plasterer who helped us remodel an old Victorian house when we were at Northwestern University. His euphonious name was Mladen Keladin. One day he was dragging two five-gallon buckets of spackle down the stairs and I asked him why he didn’t just take one at a time. He said, “One hurts your back, but if you wear two, you’re balanced.” I realized that Mladen’s truth applied to all aspects of our lives. If we only think about our burdens, our souls are thrown away, but if we practice giving thanks for our blessings for exactly the same amount of time we spend complaining about our problems, we see our lives in a more balanced perspective. I thank Mladen every time I practice spiritual balancing, which is the name I have given to his amazing, unintended truth, and not just on Thanksgiving.
The other group of teachers who aren’t teachers are the customer service technicians who answer my stupid questions any time of the day or night. My privileged technical advisers are most often my children or, if they are perplexed, my grandchildren. However, on the many occasions when I am too embarrassed to call them, I connect to the hotline for my machines. I am amazed that I am almost always given the same advice. They tell me, “Try turning it off and then back on.” This absurdly simple advice invariably works like a charm. By turning our machines off and then on again, they remember their default settings and bypass or ignore the digital gremlins that invaded my system. Then I realized that what is true for machines is true for us. This is the reason for the Sabbath. We must turn off periodically and then, after a period of rest, turn on again.
So to all of my teachers who aren’t teachers, I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving and thank you for teaching me what I needed to know most, even though it wasn’t your intention.