Thanks Giving

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For the last several years, I’ve shared this post that ran originally as a column 5 years ago in The Dallas Morning News. Since mid-March 2020, we’ve been living in a plague world. There is no place to flee. I have nothing worse to say about that than has been said. And now, an election in which more people voted than in any other–contentious, dividing, unresolved in the minds of some–has heightened already fracturing emotions. The advice below, then, remains adequate, if nostalgic. Pandemic and politics aside, we’ve been getting on each other’s nerves for a long time.

And yet: The sun does come up. It goes down, and the stars and moon come out. We may be hurting more this year, a little or a lot, but it’s still one foot in front of the other. This 11-minute video is perfect, far better than anything I can write. Consider taking time to listen to a “prescription” for happiness and peace through thanksgiving

This week’s picture features stained glass called The Glory Window in the spiral tower of the Chapel of Thanksgiving at Thanks-Giving Square in Dallas. It’s been my privilege to work on the Interfaith Council that calls this beacon its home. I think it’s not only for religious people, however. You can find this meme everywhere: “It’s not happy people who are thankful; it’s thankful people who are happy.”

So this year, with drastically reduced opportunities for families and friends to gather (eating outside, distancing, masking, singing fewer of those Thanksgiving carols we’ve been asked to avoid), let’s do our best to be our best.

“It’s November: The pumpkins are out, along with their various spiced lattes, cream cheeses, and sausages. Christmas trees made a showing before September ended in some stores. Yes, it’s that time again. The holidays. After Halloween, it’s all over but the shouting.

Help is here! Four words to improve your season: Boundaries, expectations, change, and change.

We call boundaries many things. Manners and good sense make the list. Simply put, you don’t do or say things that you shouldn’t. If it were that easy, of course, Thanksgivings with family would go a lot easier. Children would spring forth fully operational, Minerva-like. Love really would mean never having to say you’re sorry. Oh, and no more wars. If the human race were good at boundaries, though, we wouldn’t need police, or parents. In a word, set some, for yourself anyway.

Now we get more personal.  Expectations have ruined many a holiday. Set too high, the right events, the perfect gift, the happiness, the thrills are not enough. Too low, and the time goes by with drudgery and boredom. Expectations are not reserved for parties and pleasantries. You wanted a pumpkin pie made from a real pumpkin with hand-grated nutmeg? Mom bought one at Costco this year. Expecting the reverse works as well. The holidays offer a swell opportunity to monitor your expectations. See the section on boundaries if you need help being quiet. The exception? Do more good than you expect to get.

Even closer to home. Change, twice, is not a mistake. First, you can’t change other people. Lots of clichés help with this—Horses to water comes to mind. “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still” has more detailed instructions and could avert many a political rampage. Yet many of us would so like to improve our fellows that the idea blinds us to the impossibility. It’s a boundary issue, yes, but a field so rife with abuse that it needs its own category.

Second, you can change yourself. Hurray! Gyms memberships will explode in January. Self-help books do a booming business. AA works. Negative cycles are broken every day. But it’s not easy. Try this exercise: Clasp your hands so your thumbs cross. Then draw your fingers up and cross your thumbs the other way when you clasp. It feels most uncomfortable. Really, most of the time, we’d just rather not. Perhaps it’s no accident that the last gasp of the holidays is that wondrously impossible list, New Year’s resolutions, some of which actually get done.

If you’ve been paying attention here, you may have realized that this piece violates all its own precepts. It gives unsolicited advice and asks you to expect something positive for your trouble by changing. An intrusion, no? How, then, is it possible to instill some sense of “I-know-this-is-right-so-please-listen”?

I’ve struggled with boundaries. For years, I had an account with a florist for the times I made too big a misstep for a simple “I’m sorry” to make me feel better.  As for expectations, one more year is here when I’ve not planned and saved for cruises for all my kids. (Sorry, guys.) Change? I feel pretty good about this one. I’ve asked any random relative to remind me to stop if I begin a sentence with “What about…?” The world is tough. At home, let’s be safe, even if it’s from each other this year. I wish us all a happy and a merry.”

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