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In My Opinion

It’s a great time to be thankful!


Of all our traditions that shouldn’t be exposed to cynicism and conspiracy, to fake news and alternate facts, Thanksgiving Day in America should be forever revered and protected.

We need the beauty of giving thanks in our lives – if just for one day – to counter the chaos of a world that seems to spin closer every day to the black hole of madness.

As we sit down with family and friends for our annual Thanksgiving Day dinners, it might seem that we have less and less each year for which to give thanks.  An apprehensive economy, destructive politics, dangerous streets, and ominous school hallways ramp up an anxiety that may cause us to overlook and forget the wonderful things for which we can give thanks.

Family, friends, community, and a spiritual life are gifts. We need to realize how little control we have over the worrisome things that can sour our day.

But it’s not just the gifts in our lives that provide the reason for us to give thanks – it’s the act of thankfulness itself that sustains us. 

Having a feeling of thankfulness promotes a positive mindset that provides the confidence to deal with the difficult issues we experience each day.

We’re given all kinds of opportunities every day to help others not so lucky as ourselves with special dinners, food and clothing drives, fuel and financial assistance. All of these things make it easier for us to see the importance of being grateful for what we have.

“When you practice gratefulness, there is a sense of respect toward others,” said the Dalai Lama.   Every day is Thanksgiving Day for the Dalai Lama. 

Thanksgiving Day should be a day of gratitude for us as we begin the holiday season.

“Be happy with what you have while working for what you want” were Helen Keller’s wise words for today’s world.  She observed that we often waste our lives wishing for things that we don’t have while missing all the good things we enjoy. Keller knew that good health, friendships and family are the things that give us strength to overcome the obstacles in life.

I’ve written before about a song I enjoy called ‘Thankful’ by David Foster and Carole Bayer Sager that reminds us to look around ourselves for all the goodness and blessings we have. “Somedays, we can’t see the joy that surrounds us,” goes the song, “so we get caught up inside ourselves, we take more than we can give.” The lyrics go on to encourage us to “pray for what we know can be and hope for what we still can’t see. It’s up to us, to be the change,” is says. “And even though we all can do more, there’s so much to be thankful for.”

“One person can make a difference, and everyone must try,” said President John F. Kennedy. “What if each of us really tried? What if each of us spontaneously decided that, one by one, we really can be the better world we wish for?”

It surely would make a difference because, in today’s heated political scene, it’s easy to get caught up in our differences rather than finding what can bring us together.

I was struck recently by a Nov. 19, 1919, column that appeared in The Banner that asked readers to follow a suggestion that would add to the enjoyment of Thanksgiving. The request was for any spare vegetables, fruit and food to benefit Pennock Hospital.

“The generous giving of large sums of money by local business men and factories of this city along with such supplies from area farmers will make it possible to maintain the hospital,” read the words of the piece from 100 years ago. 

Reading the article today, it’s hard to believe the seriousness of need at the time.

In recent years, though, we’ve seen echoes of the same sentiment.  Giving Tuesday was established not long ago to remind people about supporting causes we care about in the same way we look forward to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The premise of the event is to turn people’s attention away from two days of consuming to a day of giving.  It’s also beginning to transform a longtime American tradition of giving and generosity into a promotion of community-wide giving.

When people let problems dominate their thoughts, other harmful perspectives can develop.  It’s a resentment that grows against those who appear to have more. That kind of rhetoric promotes jealousy and hate, rather than love and appreciation, for those who have worked hard -- especially when they’re willing to share with us and make our lives more fulfilled.

As we learn more about the exciting Blue Zone health movement that is impacting communities worldwide – and of which Barry County will be a part -- we’ll see that a healthier lifestyle isn’t just about what we eat or the exercise we get, it’s also about the social and lifestyle issues that contribute to our longevity. Being religious or spiritual supports a stronger sense of life’s purpose and, like the arts, reduces the depression we may face in our lives.

A good example of that was last week’s Grand Rapids Symphony Holiday concert at the Hastings High School Performing Arts Center. The DeCamp Family Foundation sponsored the event for all of us who were able to attend and enjoy the sounds of the season.

During the concert, Associate Conductor John Varineau said our community and the beautiful concert hall acknowledges the value we place on the arts.

Varineau also mentioned that orchestra members were able to spend time with Hastings band students during and after rehearsal and also enjoyed dinner with them.

Several musicians also spoke highly of that interaction with local students. Varineau also praised the beautiful Steinway concert grand piano recently donated by Larry and Earlene Baum, and mentioned, in jest, the fact that another native, Maggie (Groos) Coleman, made his position possible through her gift to the Grand Rapids Symphony.

We’re so lucky that we have these families who so graciously share with us. There has been some criticism from some political candidates, vilifying “rich people” for being successful rather than acknowledging them for what they have done with their wealth. Look at the cities around us like Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo and what’s happening in places like Detroit, where leaders like we have here in Barry County are rebuilding and investing and making a difference in these communities.

We also see it play out at our local United Way and all the agencies across the county that are there to help those less fortunate.

Experts warn us not to let the problems we face consume us because there’s always a solution. If we’re able to maintain a good attitude and be grateful for what we have, it’s more likely that we’ll find the answers.

Just as the song goes, “even though this world needs so much more, there’s so much to be thankful for.”

It’s important as we begin to enjoy this holiday season that we appreciate the generous families that continue to give what they have to make our lives richer. 

So, as we sit down to enjoy our dinners and each other on Thanksgiving Day, let’s think about life and what we and our families are able to enjoy. Then, let’s think about those less fortunate and remember that it’s up to us to be the change.

At the end of the day, we can acknowledge how difficult life may have become, but there’s still so much for which to be thankful – including the chance to give thanks!




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