Climbing into Thanksgiving Skin

Around the Thanksgiving table one year, my guy, our two teenaged children, and my visiting father stared at me with wide eyes as I insisted that we take turns listing what we were thankful for. 

My man, uncomfortable with such a request, began to clear the table while still seated. 

Our daughter bubbled forth, like champagne from a shaken bottle, describing the blessings in her life: the Science lab (what can I say? she ended up teaching 6th grade Science!), her bedroom (she had an amazing view of the SF Bay), her plans to attend the Nutcracker ballet in two weeks.  

Our son, usually the stoic of the family and non-emotional like his dad, peered solemnly around the table, breathed in deeply, and proclaimed, “Family.”

All grew quiet when it was my father’s turn. “You know what I have to say,” he claimed quietly.

With face crumbling, Dad’s soft cheeks grew red, his lips moistened, and his eyes searched mine for understanding.  “I am thankful every day for my sobriety.”  He began to cry without shame, and the wetness on my cheeks matched his.

I reminisce about that Thanksgiving list every year since.

What are we thankful for? The incredible feast at the table? The fact that Aunt Jean isn’t nagging Uncle Hal at the dinner table or that the neighbor next door didn’t bring over her always-burnt toasted-marshmallow sweet-potato casserole this year?

Or do we express a bigger gratitude? A bank loan to pay for the kids’ college expenses; cancer remission; recovery from surgery, addiction, or depression.

Whether our thanks this time of year are  for the small blessing of a warm walk on fallen leaves or for the larger grace of a big problem nearly solved, we all should stop and contemplate not only what we’re grateful for, but appreciate what others are grateful for also.To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch, Thanksgiving

As Atticus Finch says in To Kill a Mockingbird:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

My dad’s Thanksgiving grace helped me realize how proud he was of his sobriety and how difficult it was for him every day.

My dad’s Thanksgiving grace helped me comprehend how much he loved us, and how that love helped him reach his sobriety goal…every day.

This year, when you ask each of the people around your Thanksgiving table what they’re thankful for, climb into their skin and feel their relief, love, grace, fear, pain, and joy.

Then, walk around in it.  

turkey, wild turkey, Thanksgiving

Walking with the Backyard Turkey,
by Carla Bradley Evans

56 thoughts on “Climbing into Thanksgiving Skin

  1. A beautiful post Pam, very heart warming – and I just love the different ways your family responded to your at table request. It reminds me just what magic there is in sharing gratitude, how it cuts straight to the heart of what really matters in life – both a powerful leveler and a wise truth teller. Really enjoyed reading this, as I enjoy all your posts, and I am very grateful to have you as a friend here on WordPress:-) Huge blessings of grace and gratitude, Harula xxx

    • Gratitude – “a powerful leveler and a wise truth teller.” That’s a brilliant quote from you, Harula! You above all focus on gratitude in your blog and your life. So glad to know you virtually. 🙂

    • It’s interesting how Thanksgiving has ‘morphed’ from a tale of the pilgrims seeking a new land in America to a table laden with turkey and stuffing, and then hopefully, some self-reflection. But I guess everyone, in every land, can use more self-reflection and more appreciation for what others are going through. Happy November to you – I’m so glad you drop by at my place here.

  2. WOW…what a wonderful blog this is….you really hit the most important reasons for being thankful on the nose. I remember every year as my kids were growing up and we would do this how much they would share what they were thankful for. Then as they got older and even now, they never wanted to do it. They always said I was silly to ask this. But being the good old mom that I am I always persisted….even if I was the only one who shared my thankfulness. It’s great to read that others do this same thing. There is always something to be thankful for….even if it isn’t spoken aloud. Thank you my dearest beautiful friend for this awesome post. I really love reading all of your wonderful posts Pam and will say a special prayer for you my friend at our Thanksgiving table this year! God bless you and I wish you and yours a very thankful Thanksgiving. Love Carla’s turkey pic too!!! HAPPY HAPPY THANKSGIVING DEAR FRIEND!!!!

    • You always warm my heart, Bev. And aren’t we lucky to have access to Carla’s gorgeous photography? BTW, I am so enjoying the book you recommended – Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter. Great writing, setting, and characters. Happy Happy Thanksgiving to you, my PHS friend.

  3. Pamela, As always, nice to see that one of your posts is here for us to read. This one brought me to your family dinner table, Atticus Finch included. Who could have expected? But wasn’t he a perfect guest? He always is. Thanks.

  4. I love Thanksgiving! The calm before the Christmas storm….It is a wonderful time of reflection and thankfullness. This rough year especially it’s good to think on what was wonderful and not dwell on the bumps we took. Thanks so much for using my turkey pic – my pics and your words make a good combination! Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, My Friend

    • I am so thankful for the photographic talent you share with so many of us. Your photos are incredible – and the fact that your backyard turkey spread his wings for you says so much about that talent.

    • In fact, a friend of mine wrote a book about just that – the difference it makes when we “view things from other people’s vantage.” HIs book concentrated on the horrible era of the German Nazis; those who could put themselves “in the others’ shoes” were those who helped and honored the persecuted.

  5. There is one word that has been showing up on the doorstep of my conscious mind lately, and your latest post has finally invited it inside for a much needed conversation. The word – empathy.

    Your story is so important to this time of year. We all tend to spout of those things that we are thankful for around the dinner table. Everyone else shares their thankful memories while we tend to listen in the background, thinking about our spotlight to share our thanks.

    It is only in climbing into the shoes of another that we can fully appreciate not only what we are thankful for, but also for the lives of those closest to us that we hold so dear to our hearts. Thank you for the inspiring and thought-provoking story. It will help me to treat Thanksgiving dinner in a different light this year 😉

    • I’m grateful that you stopped by my “blog table” and added your remarks. Yes, I wonder if we can “teach” empathy? If so, it should be in every classroom for every grade. Blessings to you this coming Thursday!

  6. I am so with your Dad… I thank the Lord for my being dry now for 26 years and then I thank him for sparing my wife, 3 different cancers over 20 years and once more in remission… I agree it is easy to be thankful for all the good things in life… but be a sot for years and then feel how it is to be sober… a lot to be thankful for… Tell Dad I say keep at it Bud…

    • Your humility and humanity show through in your photography. We create to share our soul in whatever way we can, don’t you think? 26 years is an incredible accomplishment. My dad passed away after 15 well-earned years of sobriety, and he carried his gratefulness for those 15 years to his last breath.

  7. I am thankful for so much, the big and small. I try to start each day and end it with a quick reminder to myself of all the things I’m grateful for – it helps me stay grounded and it reminds me to live with an attitude of gratitude. Your post touched me. I hope you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  8. Loved your post…. there are so many things we should ALL be grateful/thankful for. If we could just get to the place where we focus ONLY on those things, the other stuff wouldn’t see so insurmountable. My father is also “sober” after many years and I know he still struggles from time to time. I, myself, try to remember to be thankful ALL the time…. not just during November. 🙂

    • Interesting that we have a similar father/daughter connection. My dad became a different man once he reached sobriety. I had ‘lost’ my dad for years, and it was such an amazing gift to have him in my life again. Thanks so much for stopping by here and talking with me!

      • More similar than you know. My parents divorced when I was only a year old. He was in and out of my life off and on until I was a freshman in college. The story is long, complicated and fraught with pain. I am going to post about this very soon and you can read about all the sordid details. This Thanksgiving it will be only my hubby and I. We are taking a much needed time away for a few days and I am thankful I have that. Have an awesome holiday Pam!! It is always a pleasure to read your blog and I am grateful I found you! 😉

  9. Very grateful for this post right now. My biggest ‘grateful’ is that I’m near my family. I have true friends, that I can afford the roof over my head, for a wonderful boss and awesome job. And lots more.

    • I have had such a great time watching your life grow the past year, Karen. You take the bad, squeeze it hard and watch the water released make underground bulbs grow into gorgeous flowers. YOU are awesome.

  10. As always, beautifully written Pam and so true. As I have gotten older, Thanksgiving has become my favorite holiday because of just this. A day of quiet gratitude for those important things that are hard to define for some. May you have a wonderful Thanksgiving in your new home!

    • Yes, Stephanie, I think I feel the same. My mom is arriving tomorrow for Thanksgiving with us all, and how lucky am I that she’s still able to enjoy the feast with family? THIS is what makes a holiday! xo

  11. What a special gift you have with words. Thank you so much for being a friend. I too am grateful for my sobriety for ways it has changed my life. From being a self-centered drunk to a person who truly thinks and cares for others. I remember our talks about your Dad and the emotions you had. I am now 60 days sober having relapsed in 2009 and have struggled to regain my sobriety. I believe I have a foot hold and feel the true Grace of sobriety again. I am so thankful that my wife, daughter, and step-children have supported me through my struggles. Words can’t describe the depth of my thankfulness. November is Gratitude month in the program I’m in and I get to listen to others share their heartfelt and honest stories of the Grace of gratitude. Each morning when I hear these tributes It changes my outlook on life and lifts my spirits. I am grateful for having a useful Life again.

    • You are one of the strongest men I know – thus I think that’s why the struggle is even harder than on some. You have more humility and love in your finger than many in their entire bodies, and thus I know you will succeed. My dad died with my brother and me at his side, and to his last breath, he was so grateful for his sobriety. So were we. xo

  12. I remember my first Thanksgiving , I was a young woman and I had just married an American. I came home from work (no holiday in Germany) and I was greeted by friends and a turkey around the table. It became my favorite holiday, a day for giving thanks. Another beautiful post. Thank you Pam and have a wonderful Tanksgiving.

  13. Your husband’s response to the question made me laugh out loud. That would be my entire family–furiously cleaning the table. I really enjoyed this post for other reasons as well. My husband’s family tree and my own have many branches of alcoholism and I thank God all the time that we’ve finally escaped all of the chaos of active drinkers. Still I feel a great sadness for those who are trapped in it still.

    • Thanks so much for stopping by here. Yes, ‘trapped’ in the disease is a perfect expression. My main ‘chore’ as a parent has been to stress that the disease is genetic in some ways, and that everyone in the family must be careful and aware. I don’t know if talking about it helps, but it sure can’t hurt. (oh, and isn’t it funny, how ‘talking’ about things, even about what we’re grateful for, is scary to many? 🙂

      • It’s like everyone is back in third grade–not wanting to say something too deep or too shallow or something that might break through to who they really are.

        I’ve been talking to my kids about that stuff all their lives. They’ve sadly seen evidence too. So far they’re careful but I still worry for them. I guess I always will 🙂

  14. That story is heart warming Pam. It does need a special empathy – which comes as one gets older I think – to put one’s own pains and pleasures to one side and to experience another person’s.

  15. Thanksgiving came to me via my reader on wordpress as we don’t celebrate it in Ireland. I didn’t feel very thankful, but on reflection I have changed my mind. It’s good to take time to see how good life is and how lucky we are.
    Lovely post, beautifully written.

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