As traffic on the Mall picks up again, it is easy to jump into these last few weeks of school forgetting to reflect about our past week. Last week we all gathered to celebrate a holiday that has been a tradition since 1621. For all the East Coast students, it is easy to imagine what the festive day could have been like. In November, the cold weather is usually setting in, the leaves have changed color and fallen to the ground. Summer has passed and winter is well on its way to moving in.
My imagination takes me immediately to a long table filled with colonial Europeans and their black top hats next to traditional Native Americans. Although the relation between these two kinds of people, from completely different backgrounds, was usually strained, Thanksgiving was different. I imagine that historical Thanksgiving day provided a moment where genuine thankfulness was expressed, thankfulness for a new home, new knowledge, new experiences, a successful harvest and plentiful food with neighbors with which to share it.
Every year, my family goes around the table expressing what we are thankful for. This year we narrowed it down to an event that happened in our life. When it came around to my five-year-old nephew’s turn he looked around, shy and intimidated that the chatting and laughing had quieted. But when he lifted his face to talk he said, “I think that my favorite thing … is right now!” My family burst into a series of laughter and “awhs.”
As I drove the long way from Colorado to Dallas, I kept going back to what he said. It was obvious that his words were genuine. When I first heard him say that I thought about his innocence and his sincerity. But as I continue to think about what he said, it seems that his words have a great deal of gravity and worth.
In our modern day, where three meals a day is expected, where we go to a store filled with every type of food imaginable, where few people harvest their own food, it is easy to check yet another box, even at the Thanksgiving table, like we do in normal life.
What if we were to treat this year differently? To attempt to live so intentionally that the present moment carries the greatest weight. Thankfulness, though it may be a hard thing to attain, certainly gives us opportunity to live more vibrantly and selflessly.
58 years ago, John F. Kennedy notably gave a Thanksgiving speech, urging the nation to unite and put aside differences. He spoke these words just two weeks before his death:
“As our power has grown, so has our peril. Today we give our thanks, most of all,
for the ideals of honor and faith we inherit from our forefathers — for the decency of purpose, steadfastness of resolve and strength of will, for the courage and the humility, which they possessed and which we must seek every day to emulate. As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.”
These words seem especially applicable to modern American life. Perhaps the students of the University of Dallas can take JFK’s parting words to heart. May we give thanks to God, look to our forefathers for strength and live a life in which our actions match our words.