Kodak Moments: Ordinary Life as a Work of Art

November 22, 2009
Rev. Victoria Weinstein

Thanksgiving Message for All Ages

How many of you are looking forward to Thanksgiving this Thursday? Me, too.  I think it is my favorite holiday.  One of the best things I love about Thanksgiving is that it’s really simple. In fact, it tells you just what to do in the title: Thanks- giving. Giving thanks. That’s a really simple instruction that everyone can try to do, even people who are sad or having a hard time. Something that’s really good to do if you run out of things to give thanks for, is you can go on a walk in the woods.  I came up with a really good list just from doing that. I was thankful for ponds, and for birds, and for trees, and for red berries that make a colorful little spot on a gray day, and I was thankful for people who smile and say hello and for dogs. All in half an hour that was six things! I bet if I walked even longer I would have found a lot more things to be thankful for.

I saw a really funny cartoon recently. It showed a pilgrim lady from the first thanksgiving feast in the 1600’s, wearing one of those tight little Pilgrim bonnets and an apron and talking to another pilgrim lady.  They were setting tons of food on a big long table outside with lots of boys and girls and other grown-ups playing in the background. One pilgrim lady was saying to the other, “I hope this doesn’t become a tradition.”

I bet the people who are laughing the loudest at that cartoon are the ones who do most of the cooking and preparing for Thanksgiving Day. Right? That’s how I felt when I saw that cartoon. It’s funny because of course that first harvest feast that the pilgrims had with the Wampanoag Indians right here in Massachusetts did become a tradition, and also because it’s a lot of work to make all the food that everyone eats up so quickly.

I make Thanksgiving dinner at my house for friends every year and it’s such a busy time that I always make sure to have my camera ready so I can take pictures to enjoy later. It’s the silliest thing, really. I have pictures from seven years ago when I’m holding the first turkey I ever cooked. I’m so proud. So every year there are pictures of the turkey. There are pictures of the pies. There are pictures of the table settings and the flowers. And of course some of my friends – some of them eating and some pictures of them flopping around on the couch groaning and digesting their food.  I really love looking at these photos over the years – they all go into one big photo album of Thanksgivings.  It sounds silly that someone would like to look at pictures of pie, isn’t it? Or dishes on a table? Such ordinary things, why would we want to take pictures of them? They’re not special, like a Christmas tree or fireworks on the 4th of July. The things that are special about Thanksgiving aren’t – if you really think about – aren’t actually special. A meal. People eating. We eat every day!

Now, that is really funny now that I think about it. What if we had a holiday about brushing your teeth? That’s another thing we do every day.  All of your family would come over and you would brush your teeth together. You could sing songs about brushing your teeth, and we could have a special church service about brushing our teeth. We would have special toothpaste we only used on that one day, and we would have pictures of us with mouths full of foam, smiling into the camera.

Or we could have a holiday about cleaning our room, or putting away laundry. We would get the day off work and school, and have friends come over and get dressed all nice and put laundry away together.  All the photos would show us vacuuming or making the bed, which is just as funny as pictures of someone taking a big turkey or green bean casserole out of the oven, isn’t it?

But maybe it’s not so funny after all. Because I’ll tell you what. Now, I’ve lived in lots of different places.  I’ve lived in Connecticut and New York and Illinois and Minnesota and Pennsylvania and Maryland and Massachusetts. And while I have wonderful memories from all of those places, I sometimes wish that I had stopped and noticed --- paid closer attention to – everyday moments and places from my life.  Not just big occasions, like graduations or fancy events, but just everyday things, like the way the light came into through the window in my college dorm room or how scrubby and bare the backyard was in my little apartment in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. I wish I had stopped to notice and pay better attention to the classroom in Chicago where I spent two years teaching, and looked more closely at the student’s faces that I taught, so I would remember them more clearly now.

So I like Thanksgiving. I like that it celebrates something as everyday as a special meal and the act of giving thanks for it, and for the way the Earth nourishes us, and for friends and family and having enough to eat, and being there to pass around the potatoes.

I like that once a year we have this holiday that I think is about paying special attention to ordinary things.  When I shop for the food that I will cook and prepare on Thanksgiving day, I like to make that a time for giving thanks, too. I like to pick everything especially carefully and make sure I get some groceries for people who won’t be at my table, but who I want to share food with, too. 

I like to think about how many people work so hard to get that food to me: the people who pick the potatoes and cabbage, the drivers who drive it to the store, the workers who stock it on the shelves – we are all connected by this food.  I like to think of all being alive at the same time in history and sometimes being grateful for the same things at the same time, like maybe a beautiful full moon or the breeze on a hot day.

My friend Dorothy likes to pick out her food especially thoughtfully, too. A little while ago, Dorothy had to go to the hospital to have a serious operation which big and scary for her.  She did fine in the operation, though, and after she got out of the hospital she and her husband Bill went to the grocery store to get some food. Dorothy was over by the green beans – you know how they have the green beans loose in a bin? – well, she was over with her plastic bag, picking out green beans one by one, looking each one over to make sure it was a nice, firm green bean and about the same size as the other beans so they would all cook up nice and finish at the same time. 

Some people just go over to the green bean bin and scoop them out, a big handful, you know? But Dorothy was there inspecting each one and carefully putting it into her bag.  “This one’s a good one, this one’s good, that one is too scrawny, this one’s good…” And Bill came over to see where she was and he started teasing her a little bit about taking so much time to pick the green beans so carefully. And Dorothy said, “Now, you can laugh if you want to, but do you know how grateful I am to be alive and to be here to choose these green beans so carefully?”

It was like every green bean was a jewel to her, she felt so lucky to be out of the hospital and well enough to be standing there, noticing each and every green bean, placing it just so in her bag.  Maybe this year if you’re going to have a green bean casserole at your Thanksgiving dinner, you’ll want to do the same thing. Just appreciate every single green bean that goes into that casserole.  Dorothy said to me, “I hope this isn’t too irreverent, but I feel like instead of wearing any religious symbol on a necklace, I should wear a green bean!” And we laughed, and I said I thought that was an excellent idea! A green bean to remind us of the beauty of the earth and how glad we are to be here.

That’s the kind of paying attention that Thanksgiving invites us to share. 

Now, because we won’t be together on Thursday to share a meal together, we share a symbolic meal at our Thanksgiving service in the form of our Harvest Communion.  The bread was lovingly baked by the Baking Crew in our own church kitchen, and for that we thank those good ladies. We are also sharing some good juice, the fruit of the apple.
As you pass the bread to your neighbor in the pew next to you, I hope you will really notice them. Even if it’s someone you think you know so well that you could see them with your eyes closed, take a good look. The poet Annie Dillard said, “We are here to abet creation and to witness to it, to notice each other’s beautiful face and complex nature so that creation need not play to an empty house.”

God of green beans and grain, of cranberries and creation,

bless this community as we break bread together, fill us with a spirit of good cheer and  gratitude.  Make us mindful of the miraculous in the ordinary, and let us be bearers of your love in our every simple act. Amen.