Thanksgiving rituals tend to focus on what we have – stuffed turkeys, stuffed families, and houses stuffed with stuff.
But it could invite us to focus on who we are.
I must have been about seven when I learned that my father had proposed to another woman, years before he met my mother. At the time, he was completing his degree in ministry in Toronto. He was committed to going to India as a missionary. The woman, whoever she was, did not wish to spend the rest of her life in a foreign country.
I remember thinking that if she had accepted, if my father had married her instead of my mother, I would not be who I was.
Like a child, I assumed that I would still exist. But perhaps in some other forms. Or some other place. It didn’t occur to me that I would not have existed at all. Someone else might have come into being, but he or she would not be me.
At an annual gathering of a group we call “the old farts” – all retired males who have spent our lives working with or in the church – someone asked, “If you could do your life over again, what would you do differently?”
“You mean,” asked one of them, “assuming that I could retain the knowledge that I now have, of who I am?”
We agreed. After all, if we went back to the same mentality we had at 20, we would obviously make the same decisions again.
Interestingly, none of us would have made any significant changes in our life stories. We had all made mistakes, of course. We regretted saying unkind words. We wished we could make amends to a few people.
But none of us would have changed our career choices. Or our marriages. Because, as someone explained, “If I did, I wouldn’t be who I am today.”
I thought that was a powerful statement of gratitude. None of us wanted to be someone different. We were content, comfortable, with the people we had become.
There was no grumbling about how badly life had treated us, or how fate had cheated us of the fame and fortune we deserved. No sense that the universe had come unhinged and failed to unfold as it should.
We hadn’t always had it easy. Among us, we had experienced our share of illness, poverty, death, disappointment, betrayal….
But those past losses hadn’t destroyed us.
Nor, I’m confident, will the future. I know I have limited years left – I don’t know how many, but I certainly can’t go on indefinitely. My eyes, ears, joints, muscles, brain, and organs – all are all likely to deteriorate. My sense of smell and taste have already suffered.
Eventually, I will die.
That’s okay too. I may not like what’s coming, but I can accept it.
More and more, I find a kind of creed in the prayer attributed to the late Dag Hammarskjold, UN Secretary-General from 1953-1961: “For all that has been, thank you. For all that will be, yes.”
Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author of 17 books and several thousand magazine and newspaper articles. He welcomes comments; firstname.lastname@example.org.