Today is the day. Giving thanks is the whole point of this gathering. And when we are in the midst of people we may not know well, or people we may dread discussing certain topics with, it is good to remember. All week I have been posting about holy conversation, about how actually talking with each other, instead of avoiding hard topics, might make the world a little better, might bring us all a little closer to peace. A few guidelines make that easier, starting with listen, then feel. Today, appropriately enough, the step is thank.
This is how it might go: your neighbor across the table starts in on something you disagree with and believe he is misinformed about. But you listen anyway. You really listen, letting go of formulating a response in your head, and instead you focus on his words, and how he is offering them. What you hear may surprise you - there may be something deeply revealing about him, even under words that are off-putting. And this gives you a chance to understand him a bit better.
But maybe those words are very off-putting, and you feel offended, angry or afraid. Now is the time to feel those feelings, identify them in yourself. Instead of reacting, or trying to shut the other person down, you can simply say to yourself 'I am feeling upset by this.'
Then, when you do speak, no matter how you feel, you can start by saying, 'thank you.' Thank the other person for sharing something of who they are. Thank them for reminding you how passionate they are, how much they care about what is going on in the world. Thank them for being your friend or your relative, despite everything.
Holiday gatherings are a great opportunity to remember that we are not alone, we are all in this together. And we don't all agree, probably on anything. And most of the time, that is ok. We do not have to see eye-to-eye in order to love one another, in order to live in close proximity.
Appreciating one another, realizing we really cannot live without each other, is in fact not optional. No matter how far away they live, every human on the planet is ultimately my brother or sister, and realizing this is the key to peace. For Christians, this realization is a commandment ('love your neighbor as yourself').
For now, though, for today, it is enough to simply say 'thanks'. For this food, for this occasion, for this gathering, for this conversation, as hard as it may be. 'Thank you' for all that you are.