Gathering at the table for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a holiday for which I am truly thankful. For one thing, it is a holiday that isn’t defined by commercialism. There is no expectation to buy presents. No decorations are required. Primetime television programs aren’t pre-empted by holiday specials. And you don’t have to endure non-stop seasonal music on radio stations for weeks beforehand.

I also appreciate the fact that this holiday primarily takes place at the family dinner table. It is family-based and food-focused. Kids come home from college for an extra-long weekend. Grandparents fly in for their annual grandchildren fix. Uncles, aunts and cousins drive from across town with video games and camcorders. All arrive with healthy appetites.

I love the way that Thanksgiving brings relatives together. In spite of the dysfunctions that characterize every family system, each home is furnished with an abundance of blessings. What unites people who share a common name, common ancestors and common memories is often under-appreciated. We fail to recognize the unique privilege of swinging from the same limb of an age-old family tree. Gratefully, the Thanksgiving table provides a priceless opportunity to reflect on gifts of shelter, employment, health and prized possessions.

In an increasing number of homes, there will be an empty chair at the family table tomorrow — a son away at war, an aunt in a recovery program, a brother having to work, a grandmother in an intensive-care unit, a daughter who is estranged.

There will be an empty place at our table. It is the one ordinarily filled by my kids’ Papou. After a 14-year battle with cancer, my dad died earlier this month. The chair normally positioned next to Nana will be replaced by the sofa-sized lump in my throat. My dad’s absence will trigger tears. But there will also be laughter, knowing glances and smiles as remembrances are recalled of a man who can never be replaced.

Thanksgiving gives me a chance to toast my dad and his remarkable achievement in his role of patriarch. In addition to the box of Kleenex, there will also be a treasure chest of memories. Recognizing the empty chairs at your family table, Thanksgiving is a rare opportunity to say well-done for those of whom you are proud.

But there is yet another reason why I am particularly grateful for Thanksgiving. It is an equal-opportunity holiday. Whereas Jews lay claim to Yom Kipper and Hanukkah, and Christians own both Christmas and Easter, Thanksgiving is not a respecter of any one particular religion. Muslims celebrate it; Buddhists do, too. And while some Hindus may insist on a vegetarian feast, they don’t have to ignore the fourth Thursday of November.

The major religions of the world verbalize a core value of gratitude. The need to say thanks to the Creator is at the heart of being human. It is more than a matter of good manners. Saying “thank you” is a matter of great importance. By giving thanks, we voice a declaration of dependence on the Almighty and embrace a proper estimation of ourselves. Thanksgiving motivates humility. When we express appreciation for what we undeservedly have or receive, we cut and serve ourselves a slice of humble pie.

With that in mind, I’d like to invite you to a “pie social.” This evening at 7:30 p.m., the Mercer Island Clergy Association will sponsor a communitywide Thanksgiving Celebration at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 4400 86th Ave. S.E. This interfaith experience will provide a celebrative means of expressing gratitude to the God of all peoples.

Greg Asimakoupoulos is the pastor of the Mercer Island Covenant Church and contributes regularly to the Reporter.

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