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Just dropping by ... Giving thanks?

Yevet Tenney for Progressive Dairyman Published on 06 November 2017

The bright red, yellow and orange of autumn leaves and the chill of the wind announce that fall has arrived and winter is well on its way. I can’t imagine how it was back then on that first Thanksgiving Day for those Pilgrims who survived the treacherous sea voyage in a ship not bigger than my house.

They had buried their dead at sea and in shallow frozen graves.

They were people just like you and me. They felt the frigid cold and the bite of the snow as deeply as we do. They felt the pangs of hunger as voraciously as we would if we ever had to miss a few meals. Mothers wanted their babies to live just as much as we want our children to live.

Fathers and mothers spent the same nine months expecting a sweet little one to bless their lives – only to have it snatched from them in disease or starvation.

They didn’t have doctors to consult for a cure. They didn’t have pain relievers to give for pain and fever. They hardly had blankets and clothes to wrap around their bony shoulders and frozen feet. They didn’t have means to hush the cries of the little ones. I can’t imagine.

Pilgrim prayers were their only source of strength. I am sure they often felt that the heavens were closed and they were totally alone in a wilderness of strangers.

I am sure after that long winter of freezing in makeshift homes, the light of spring and summer sifting down through the trees was a glorious sight to the Pilgrims. Their prayers of gratitude were probably much more fervent and heartfelt than I have ever prayed.

I have felt gratitude like that only once or twice in my life. Once my car broke down in Price, Utah, at 11 p.m. in the dead of winter. It was snowing, and I had nowhere to go. To make matters worse, I had bronchitis. I remember going into a convenience store.

The kindly cashier didn’t say anything to reprimand me when I lay down in front of a small heater on the floor. I ached to the very center with cold and misery as I wheezed and coughed until the morning light. That heater was the focus of my gratitude.

The Pilgrims didn’t even have that. When they first arrived in their new homeland, they were confined to the ship. They huddled together for warmth. When they finally were able to build houses and settle in for the winter, food was scarce. Hunger was a constant companion, and many more people died. I can’t imagine.

I know what it is to be hungry. Once a month, I fast for 24 hours. It’s not that difficult because I know at the end of the fast, there will be food in abundance. Once I went on a pioneer trek to commemorate the pioneers who crossed the plains in handcarts. We put on our pioneer clothes and pushed our carts. At first it was great fun, but then it got hard.

We walked all day in the hot sun with only an orange and water to sustain us. About 4 p.m., after a particularly strenuous pull up a hill, I threw up all the water I had drunk. I was miserable, but I didn’t want to give up. I had too much pride for that. I trudged on, putting one foot in front of the other.

Sometimes my only support was hanging onto the handcart, which was being pushed by hands stronger than mine. I thought I was going to die.

I took only sips of water until about 3 a.m., when we stopped to bed down for the night. The menu after the hard day was a cup of broth and a biscuit. What a wonderful meal fit for a king. I had never tasted anything so good. The broth warmed my very soul. To this day, I wonder what they put in the broth to make it so magical.

Tears of gratitude stung my cheeks as I crawled into a couple of blankets spread on the hard ground. Food and warmth were the focus of my heartfelt prayer. “Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for my blankets and that glorious soup. Don’t ever let me forget those wonderful pioneers who gave so much for me to live in the luxury I have.”

When spring came, the Pilgrims didn’t all of a sudden have plenty to eat. They had to wait for the harvest. I am sure they expressed gratitude for the Native Americans who were willing to teach them how to plant crops in this strange new land, but they still had to wait for the harvest.

I know what it is like to wait for new little plants to pop through the ground after I have planted them. I know the excitement that comes when you to watch them grow into full-grown plants laden with fruit for harvest. I know the taste of new vegetables straight from the garden, but I can’t imagine how the Pilgrims must have felt knowing that because of the harvest, they would never have another winter like the horror of last one.

I am sure the magnitude of the gratitude expressed by those few Pilgrims on that first Thanksgiving Day far outshines all of the gratitude expressed by the millions of modern Americans of today. I don’t think we are not capable of that kind of gratitude.

We have not felt the emptiness of need and want like the Pilgrims did. We live in our climate-controlled comfort surrounded by abundance and opulence. We walk through supermarkets laden with someone else’s harvest. We don’t give a thought to the labor and sacrifice that brought the harvest to us.

We don’t think of the farmer who sweated through the summer to grow the produce. We don’t think of the canneries and the workers who sorted and canned the food. We don’t give a thought to the turkey farmer or the dairyman.

We don’t think of the trucker who drove into the night to unload boxes, or the stock person who put the produce in nice little piles on the shelves. We pick through and discard. We take what we want and throw the rest away. Unless the fruit is plump and without bruise, we dub it rotten and unfit for consumption.

We don’t consider the doctor, the fireman or the policeman who is on call to save us if we have an emergency. We don’t bother to say thanks for the linemen of the utility’s company who are called away from his or her family if the power goes out.

We don’t think about the carpenter or the craftsman who makes it possible for us to walk on plush carpet and lounge in our overstuffed furniture with insulated walls to protect us from the world outside.

We sit down to tables laden with exotic delicacies from all over the world. We spread out our linen table cloths and our china, silver and crystal for the special meal. We give a token prayer, or not, and dig into the food. We eat what we want and turn up our noses to the rest.

We eat so much that nothing tastes good. Then two or three hours later, we go in for a snack. We eat leftovers for a couple of days, then we throw the rest away.

Someone once said, “What if you woke up in the morning with only the things you told God you were thankful for the night before?” That would be a shock to most of us. It is not that we are selfish. We are just blind to what we have. We are so used to being pampered. Our lives are pillow-soft and comfortable, free from the basic needs that the Pilgrims would have given all they had to possess.

Thanksgiving is a time for remembering. Somehow in between the fright of Halloween and the avarice of Christmas, we must take time to get down on our knees and humble ourselves and try to image what it was like for the Pilgrims on that first Thanksgiving.

Try to get a sense of what it would be like to live without the niceties of life. Pretend you don’t have a cellphone or the internet. Turn off the power. Then perhaps we will understand what it is to be truly grateful. I am certain our prayers will be filled with greater gratitude.

Remember: Gratitude is the difference between those who have and those who have not. Those who are truly grateful have everything they need, and those who are ungrateful are always wanting more than they will ever have.  end mark

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