A Festival of Thanksgivings

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The week was filled with discussions of gratitude. On Wednesday, a group of teens met with me to practice the script below. It had taken many many calls to get participants so I was thankful they could do it. After they rehearsed, I was amazed how quickly they caught the vision and the rhythm of the piece. Not every word was perfect. Not every unfamiliar name was pronounced like it probably should be. But those kids left me speechless, for which they were probably thankful.

The Interfaith Council of Thanks-Giving Square presents a festival each year. When we started in 2019, we planned something much different than what we shared in November 2020. It was postponed from March to May with consideration of August (COVID can’t possibly last that long!) with plans for a virtual event that was, in my opinion, better than it might have been in person. Artists submitted their works via video which allowed them time and space to discuss their backgrounds, their inspiration, and their art specifically. Virtual was 100 times more work, but I was thankful to have been involved.

We thought 2021 would be a breeze. It wasn’t. Obstacles are boring to others, so you will be spared. Working with 5 of the best, most dedicated, best, persistent, (all other positive adjectives)best women, I learned much about how to be better, though I am not the best I should be. It’s not just synergy; I don’t yet know its name. We were and are all looking in the same direction, though: upward. To say that I’m thankful to know them is a deep understatement

One of my church leaders, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, gave a talk over 7 years ago about gratitude. In fact, this was another connection during the week when someone discussed it at an activity on Thursday. He draws an important distinction between being grateful for and being grateful in. “Count Your Blessings” is not just a peppy song (don’t panic seeing thousands of unmasked people singing); it’s also one of those unwritten commandments when things are going badly. In the talk, we are urged to remember that gratitude is not just for the pretty times but “In Any Circumstances.” (That’s part of the talk’s title, if you didn’t look, and for the reading below, I used “All” instead. This was before I read the talk.)

The Festival of Thanksgivings featured the art of 6th-8th graders in the Dallas ISD. The artists also submitted in a few words what they were thankful for. Often the responses were moving, thoughtful, poignant. Read some below at the end of the piece. The dramatic reading itself is fashioned from statements of 8 high school students. They take us into their hearts, into their homes. All in all, the words of these sets of children moved us, and, I think, humbled us. In the grown-up world, we consider children oblivious to the goings-on around them. They’re on devices, in their rooms, at their activities. That is not the truth, though. They are dealing with emotions and challenges we rarely glimpse. Our festival gave them a place to share their feelings as well as their talents. We were and are all enriched.

As wonderful as that is, for me personally, something else happened that I’ll not forget. One of the groups who performed involved the Comanche Children and Youth of the Dallas Indian and Lovers Lane Deaf Choir. Their ministry is based at Lovers Lane UMC. Sadly, several members of the Deaf Choir leadership were ill, so that group sent only an ASL interpreter for the Comanche children. After they sang and danced (we got to join in), a small group came in at the back of the hall. I greeted the man who brought the children and asked if he had come for the ASL group. Delayed at a piano recital, he wasn’t aware that the Deaf Choir had not been able to come. It was sad to share the news, but we were thankful this group came.

While I was explaining the cancellation to him, one of the people with him took my hand. I hesitate to describe him because I might offend. Describing disabilities is not intuitive. The Deaf do not like to be called “hearing impaired,” for example. There are times when sensitivity is more important. His hands, though, need a bit. They were small and the knuckles were prominent, almost knobby. This is all he did: he took my hand in his and squeezed it. Twice . The man—with whom he had been signing—did not say anything to me about this action. Because he continued signing, I don’t know what he was communicating, but it didn’t seem to be about the hand holding. Perhaps the action was as it seemed: natural and unremarkable. At least to them. I felt a connection with a human for which I was deeply thankful.

Now, back to the talk. If I were only counting my blessings, I could name that chance encounter. Usually, we remember to be thankful for good health or a strong body. Here, however, the difference between “grateful for” and “grateful in” became obvious. What if we had neither? What if we knew nothing of either? In that circumstance, could we be thankful to be in the state we found ourselves? Psalm 118 contains this line: “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” Read it in its entirety, too. There are many “ins.”

Read dramatically, the piece below shares much about gratitude. Quickly, alternating,  and repeating, the lines complete a thought. Four readers, or two. It works. One thing about giving thanks is that it suggests a debt is owed, and I do feel that for the six readers, their parents, and their teachers. How often can one say “Thank you!”? I will be looking into its doing, next.

 

A Festival of Thanksgivings Choral Reading

[Unison passages are in BOLD BLACK CAPS]

1 Thanks

2 Giving

3 Giving

4 Thanks!

1 Who?

2 You?

3 I can

4 Me

3 Too.

[unison]

GIVE THANKS!

[individuals]

1 No matter what

2 No matter who

3 There is always something…

4 Something to be grateful for.

1 In all circumstances.

 

2 Corrie Ten Boom said,

3 “I am thankful for fleas.”

[unison]

FLEAS?!

[individuals]

3 Yes. Fleas.

4 The prison guards

1 Would not inspect their room

2 Yes, their room

3 Because of

[Unison]

THE FLEAS!!

 

[individuals]

4 In all circumstances

1 Be grateful!

2 For what you can. Devin added more!

4 “Be grateful for what you have.

1 Be grateful for the people who support you even at your lowest points.

2 Be grateful for the future, and that your mistakes can be forgotten.

3 Be grateful that you are capable of loving others.

[unison]

BE GRATEFUL THAT YOU CAN EVEN BE GRATEFUL AT ALL!”

[individuals]

4 Thank YOU, Devin.

 

1 Rumi—the great Persian poet

2 Rumi—the Islamic scholar, too

3 Born in 1207

2 TWELVE 0 7?

1 That’s right. Rumi said—

2 “Wear gratitude like a cloak,

3 and it will feed every corner of your life.”      –

4 That’s what Rumi said.

1 Long ago.

 

2 Last month,

3 Just last month, Gabriela said,

4 “I think when you feel joy you will feel thankful for that moment and everything around you. It’s not something you have to say for anyone to recognize or hear, you can just feel it.

1  Feel how appreciative and thankful for everything you have and everything that brought you to that point in your life.”

2 “Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.”

3 Karl Barth said that.

[unison]

JOY!

 

[individuals]

4 Larissa Gomez thought,

1Being thankful is not always experienced as a natural state of existence,

2 we must work at it, akin to a type of strength training for the heart.”

[unison]

TRAINING FOR THE HEART.

 

[individuals]

3 Let’s hear what Denise said:

4 “Gratitude means to be thankful and most of the time means returning the favor. There have been many times when I have felt gratitude.

1 When my mom bought me the iPhone 11, I was so thankful and returned the favor by cooking dinner that day.

2 When you return the favor, it feels really good because you’re ultimately giving back to the person or thing that helped you out.”

3 Return the favor.

[unison]

RETURN THE FAVOR!

 

[individuals]

4 From Jaiydin—

1 “One often does not find their purpose near the end of their road nor the beginning of it

2 They find their purpose while walking their road,

3 When we help one another on the road, we get loads of gratitude from their smiles,

4  not their words.

1 They may not show gratitude but deep down they are more thankful

[unison]

THAN YOU COULD EVER IMAGINE.”

 

[individuals]

2 Imagine! Like anime!

3 What’s that?

4 Anime is a Japanese form of animation

1 Not just for kids!

2 No, not just for kids. Thank goodness!

3 Sofiaenid is thankful for anime.

4 She says,

1 “I am most grateful to anime for helping me get through my darkest times

2 And helping me improve my reading, writing skills, self-confidence, mannerisms,

3  and it even helps improve my mindset.

4 Some people might think that anime are just silly animated books or shows,

1 but anime to me is very special and will always hold a very special place in my heart.

2 My favorite genre is Shonen because it has themes that teach you life lessons.”

[unison]

Arigato!

 

3 Jordan adds this:

4 “Gratitude is the capacity for appreciating the positive benefits we receive in life.

1 Gratitude is the capstone of the seven capacities of positive leadership.

2 Gratitude charges one’s advocacy because its effects are contagious.”

[unison]

AND GRATITUDE

THE CAPSTONE—THE HIGH POINT.

[individuals]

 

4 Now, hear from Deontae:

1 “Gratitude is like trust

2   you gotta know the person before you give them your gratitude.

3 Gratitude also is like a mega thank you from someone for doing something like changing their life

4 It also can make their day.

1 It also means giving thanks, especially on Thanksgiving.”

[unison]

YES! THANKSGIVING!

[individuals]

2 This year

3 That’s November 25th

4 Twenty-five?

1 Yes, November 25th

[unison]

THANK YOU!

 

[individuals]

2 DeAmber sent a poem:

3 “As the sun hits the horizon, and the announcer on the tv’s voice rises

while our team wins the football game,

4   I watch as my family comes around a single table within the kitchen.

1   Our table is decorated with food and the main attraction, the turkey.

The table has handmade decorations and centerpieces.

2   Lively conversations between family members fill the table as my little cousins run around before my mother says, “Ahem!”

3   I hear the individual voices of each of my family members saying what they are grateful for.

4   Now it is my turn:

1   Living!

2   Living!

3   Living

4   Living!”

[unison]

IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES

GIVE THANKS

THANKS

GIVING.

[individuals]

1 Thank you for coming!

2 Thank you for giving

3 Thanks!

4 Our artists are also grateful.

1   Let’s see them!

2  Let’s hear them!

3 Melanie is thankful for her grandmother, Rosalba—the reason she’s still here, her shoulder to cry on.

4  Chanaya is thankful she has a place to stay with her hardworking parents.

1  Jose is thankful for anime!

2  Alejandro is thankful for his hands because he is able to create art, music, literature…

3   Amy is thankful for friends now, because she didn’t have any growing up.

4   Penelope is thankful for her piano.

1 See them all, and see the others.

2  Hear the others.

3 Beautiful!

4 Thank you!

[unison]

WE ARE FULL OF THANKS… FOR YOU!

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