“In the places I go there are things that I see
“that I never could spell if I stopped with the Z.
“I’m telling you this ‘cause you’re one of my friends
“My alphabet starts where your alphabet ends!”
So declares the protagonist of Dr. Seuss’s funny little book, On Beyond Zebra.
On every page, he introduces a new letter of the alphabet and corresponding creature to Conrad Cornelius O’Donald O’Dell. Conrad is amazed as his mind’s eye opens to all the quirky life he never imagined.
Similarly, in one of Thanksgiving’s beloved movies, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” Neal Page (Steve Martin) struggles to make his way home in time for The Big Meal, while trying to avoid the annoying, jabbering, slobbering shower ring salesman, Del Griffith (John Candy). Single-minded, Neal rants and raves about all the scenarios stymieing his return, and when at last he arrives, he kicks Del to the curb.
When Neal realizes Del has no place to go . . . no family to welcome him since his wife died . . . no hot dinner over which to give thanks . . . he has an epiphany and subsequent change of heart. He shakes off his frustrations and invites Del to spend the holiday with him and his family.
And Del is grateful.
Del’s not just thankful for a place to go, but grateful for an invitation to joy and peace.
This is a week — indeed a season — during which we fancy the concept of “thankfulness” much like the buttery yeast rolls we pass around our tables. We loll morsels of it around our mouths, savor it for a moment, then swallow and go take a nap. What we miss in this process of ingestion is what lies beyond the concept of thanks: the concept of gratitude.
Like Conrad Cornelius O’Donald O’Dell and his ABC’s, we don’t even realize what lies beyond thanks.
Neal Page was thankful transportation eventually brought him home.
Del Griffith was grateful Neal Page looked beyond his bumbling idiocy to see and reach out to his hurting heart.
Jarod Laughner is thankful he has a hot meal in prison.
Mark Kelly and Gabrielle Giffords are grateful she survived.
A suburban couple is thankful all the kids are home from college.
A bald young mother in a hospital gown is grateful to share what may be her last holiday dinner with her husband and children who sit by her bed.
PennState administrators are thankful for Thanksgiving vacation.
The victims of Jerry Sandusky are grateful people finally hear and believe them.
Many Americans are thankful for football and full bellies.
Recipients of local county food banks are grateful someone dropped off a few extra cans of green beans last week.
Long are the lists most Americans clutch like security blankets, containing all the “things” for which we give thanks.
Short is the time we have to be grateful.
“In the year 1621, the Pilgrims held their first Thanksgiving feast. They invited the great Indian chief Massasoit, who brought 90 of his brave Indians and a great abundance of food. Gov. William Bradford and Capt. Miles Standish were honored guests. Elder William Brewster, who was a minister, said a prayer that went something like this: ‘We thank God for our homes and our food and our safety in a new land. We thank God for the opportunity to create a new world for freedom and justice,’” explains Linus in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.
“Amen,” says Peppermint Patty.
“Thanksgiving is more than eating, Chuck. You heard what Linus was saying out there. Those early Pilgrims were thankful for what had happened to them, and we should be thankful, too. We should just be thankful for being together. I think that’s what they mean by ‘Thanksgiving,’ Charlie Brown,” says Marcie.
It is good to give thanks.
It is mind-blowing to be grateful.