Finding Thanksgiving


In keeping with my practice of showcasing American holidays as often as possible, I write today of Thanksgiving, the quintessential American holiday.  Here’s a classic Thanksgiving picture.




There’s much going on in this picture. There’s also much missing, heavy winter coats for one thing. But this is not a post about deconstructing this image. It’s a post about finding something to be thankful for, celebrating gratitude in the midst of what seems a dark, discouraging, and depressing turn of events.


I added this image from my last year’s post on the First Thanksgiving just because it makes me smile.  Here’s another one.



NOTE: I’ve had these images stored for so long, I have no clue who first uploaded them.  So, if it was you, PLEASE let me know; I’d love to give you the credit you deserve.


OK, back to finding gratitude in the oddest places.

Thanks to for the image.

Each Thanksgiving, when we go around the table to say what we are particularly grateful for, I’m always struck by how easy it is to find gratitude in the good things. Of course I’m grateful for family, friends, food; I’m grateful for good health and a home I love; I’m often grateful that someone else basted the turkey.  Who wouldn’t be?

What is more challenging, and therefore of much more
interest to me, is finding gratitude where I least expect it.

My first Thanksgiving back in the States following Peace Corps (2006), is when I first embraced this idea. We were in Ohio, gathered around the table of one of my sons. His wife had charged each of us with the task of writing down on a strip of paper something we were grateful for.  We would read them at the end of Thanksgiving dinner, she told us. Then she and her son would create a garland with them to decorate the Christmas tree.

We followed her directions. As we read them aloud, I heard lots of “good health, family” and so forth, as I’d expected. Then it was my turn; mine was different; I’d written:

I’m thankful for the Newark race riots in 1968.

This did not go over well and, as I expected, I needed to explain myself.

“It’s you,” I told them. “It’s all of us sitting here. This moment couldn’t have  happened if not for those riots in Newark that spilled over into our town and forced my mother to move out of the city. She’d never have moved otherwise and I’d never have met Jon and Dave’s father, and we’d not be here today. So yes, I’m very grateful to those riots of 1968.” 

It’s the lemonade from the lemon.

That’s what I’m looking for again this year, but without the benefit of hindsight. We’ve had a bushel basket of lemons dumped in our laps. What can I find among them to be grateful for this Thanksgiving season?

Turns out, quite a bit.  Here are just two three that came easily to mind:

  1. I’m thankful that I now understand just how deeply divided my country is. For without that realization, nothing could be done to alleviate it.
  2. I’m thankful that this election has raised the political awareness of millions of Americans who are quickly becoming more educated in how their government works. We’ve been an apolitical and apathetic country for too long.
  3. I’m thankful for the reminder that I live in a country in which civility still rules, in the end; that power is transferred non-violently, openly, civilly, even as I remain vigilant for signs of political corruption by that power.

See how this works?  You try it.
I’d love to hear what you have found to be grateful for this year.


Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.  Melody Beattie

And gratitude turns a demagogue-led political scene into an opportunity for unparalleled growth and renewed commitment to the principle of We The People.

How about you? Will you add to my list? 

16 Responses

  1. Ian Mathie
    | Reply

    I’m grateful for the science that enables me still to be here ( without my transplant I probably wouldn’t be) to witness all that’s going on in the world. Individually I cannot change any of it, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a spectator (even if sometimes a colateral victim) with the hope that after wreaking so much destruction as is going on now, humanity might come to its senses and sort things out peacefully.

    Remember, the last thing out of Pandora’s Box was Hope, so all is not lost, even with DT in charge.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      That is a timely reminder, Ian, for I have of late thought of the Pandora’s box metaphor. What have we unleashed! Time will tell. In the meantime, we have Hope. And the power of our voices.

      • Ian Mathie
        | Reply

        Hang onto Hope, at all costs. It will see you through until DT is trumped by paople playing better cards, who actually understands what they are doing.

  2. Kathleen Pooler
    | Reply

    Janet, I’m loving this spirit of resilience and hope that we are bring forced to embrace in the midst of the gloom and doom. Thank you! And I am grateful to still be here due to many treatment options despite lingering health issues…living, loving, laughing. Life is good and worth the fight! And I have to say , Ian, you are my role model and hero!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I’m so pleased you and Ian have connected. That is the quintessential gift of social media. Thank you, Kathy, for your generosity over the years. And for embracing the challenges before you. You are a role model for so many, myself included. Happy Thanksgiving.

  3. Susan
    | Reply

    After seeing the Watts Riots up close in 1965, I knew I needed to experience life in other countries. My awareness of the unfairness led me to live abroad for many years. For this I am grateful. I enjoyed your perspective on finding gratitude where least expected.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I’m grateful you did that too, for out of that decision came two great memoirs, Lullaby Illusion, and Diego Garcia. And I hope many more to follow. Do you celebrate American holidays (line Thanksgiving) in Uraguay?

      • Ian Mathie
        | Reply

        Surely it must be Gracias Day down there? 🙂

  4. Laurie Buchanan
    | Reply

    Janet — I’m grateful for the recent wakeup call our country experienced because in its tumultuous wake we have the golden opportunity for positive action (i.e., acquire knowledge, get involved, proactively voice our choice), these forward steps, leveraged with hope, point to a bright future.

  5. Janet Givens
    | Reply

    Yes indeed, Laurie. I am feeling energized anew, not only because there is much work to be done — now that we understand — but because I’ve been able to connect with so many others of similar values and dreams, you among them. There’s a particular energy in that. Thank you for sharing the link on your FB page. And certainly have a glorious Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow. We still have so much to be grateful for.

  6. Merril Smith
    | Reply

    I’m not grateful for things such as riots where people were injured, and I am not grateful for the campaign and election of DT. However, I am grateful for the results of such things. As others have said, DT’s campaign and election have revealed feelings that were already there, but the election has also energized and mobilized many. Perhaps we need to feel despair in order to feel hope.

    But I am also grateful for good health and for my family and friends–and for “meeting” so many blogger friends, too.

  7. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    Happy Thanksgiving, Janet. I’m grateful to have connected with you this past year, as well as for discovering your thoughtful blog.

    As for “making lemonade,” one positive that has come out of this election for me, is that it has heightened my awareness of the perils of “fake news,” and has challenged me to take a deeper look at my own biases, “bubbles,” and sources of information. How’s that for looking at the bright side? 😉

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      That’s a great addition, Tim. Thank you. Of course, the work of uncovering our biases is an ongoing one. And the effort in staying abreast of what passes for a “free press” is a big one. I go mostly on past experience when I choose a news source (The Washington Post and New York Times; New Yorker and Huffington’s articles come most immediately to mind), all print sources. I gave up on network and cable “news” shortly after returning from Peace Corps. But I wonder if there were to be a subtle shift in their leanings, would I notice? Or would I sail gently off with them? And then we have these new social media sources that folks share on FB. I’d love to do a post on them sometime. Hmmmm.

      Recent research tells me that when people feel put upon, overwhelmed, they tend to hunker down with “their own.” I see that happening and realize I too have pulled back, hunkered down for a bit, and am listening. But for what, I’m not sure. The “all clear” siren comes to mind. 🙂 Wouldn’t that be nice.

      • Ian Mathie
        | Reply

        It would be even nicer if you didn’t have to wait four years and have to put up with months of ‘news’ bombardment like we’ve just endured before the All Clear siren sounds. 🙂

  8. Gulzhahan
    | Reply

    Besides family, my apartment and my job my gratitude is to Peace Corps for giving the opportunity for me to know the friends from America.
    Happy Thanksgiving Day!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I know you do, Gulzhahan. Thank you for adding your voice here. I’ve missed you.

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