Last Thanksgiving there hung from the chandelier over our dining table a swooping strand of construction paper rings inner-locked in a chain of gratitude. My niece, Emily, had cut the colorful strips and placed them before us. The children wrote charming little sentiments. Adults strained to limit their gratitude to one sentence. The chain hung over the table for a good week.
The day we hung that colorful strand; after the clanking of pans and the clinking of ice in water goblets; after the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was over and the television was turned off; after the kids had all found their name cards and settled into their seats; we paused. Our mother, who presided over the company of 52 people gathered that day, had taught us how to pause.
We think it’s our duty as parents to teach our children how to do things, and this is true, we should teach, and learn, how to do. But we were gifted with a mother who also taught us when to be still.
"Be still and know I am God." I can hear her voice speak it in my head. She has whispered reassurance to me when I’ve been troubled, since I was very small. She was, and still is, a poet. She speaks with a poet’s lilt, and she sees with a poet’s eyes. She taught us that “being” is more important than “doing.”
Mom never was one to have the TV on when we were growing up, or even music for that matter. Music was not background noise in our house. It was something you sat down and listened to, with intelligence and heart. If you felt compelled to dance, well that was ok, but to interrupt with conversation about anything other than the music itself, that was disrespectful to the magic of the muse which was trying too communicate with you. Even now I have a hard time when I am riding with someone in a car and the driver turns on the radio, then starts up a conversation. It hurts my brain, maybe because I feel so compelled to pay attention to the music. I’m not so bad with TV; it’s sort of white noise to me. There is something, however, wholly magic in silence; purposeful silence. Mom saw the power of silence filling the spaces between the verbs of life. I have tried to teach our children the same, for they are all poets and a poet without chunks of private, idling quietness is frustrated.
So we pause at the table, amid the aromas of the feast and the energy of so many people with so much love between them. We pause; we listen; then we pray.
I realized a few years ago that I was in one of the sweet spots of life. I had lived long enough to understand what mattered and what didn’t matter so much. I loved a man with whom I was wholly comfortable, who loved me and accepted me with my flaws but also knew my potential. I was surrounded by children who were making intelligent and heartfelt choices that would not permanently hurt them or the people they loved. I understood the odds of such favorable circumstances were very rare. Not that we were unfamiliar with distress and sorrow. We knew, however, the beautiful advantages we had acquired because of the strength gained in our struggles. We were on the cusp of welcoming a new generation of children to our family table. And our mother was yet with us, to oversee with her calm assurances.
Overcome, late one night during that season, with the realization that I could not thank God enough, I heard the spirit whispering, “Try.”
For the feast upon this table
For this land where we are able now
To bow our heads and pray
For the warmth that’s all around us
For the love that does abound
As we are gathered here today
For the dancing flame in the fireplace
Setting all the room aglow
For the laughing eyes on a child’s face
Looking through the sifting snow
There’s the woman here who bore me
There’s the man that I adore
And there are young ones with our name
Come together now in love
A circle here, and more above
Join in one eternal chain
Like the paper strands on the Christmas Tree
That the children’s hands have made
There is future here, there is history
And we are bound to both by grace
So Give Thanks
To the Lord of all this goodness
For the struggles that improve us
There is evidence He loves us
Like colorful strands of paper, we link ourselves to a long familial chain, going all the way up to Father Adam and, before him, the Father of Father’s. I picture the circles of those who we had loved and lost, hanging above me. And, too, I foresee bright new links further down the line when I am gone.
There is future here; there is history; and we are bound to both by Grace.
Chubby little fingers of those who bear my name scrawl newly learned letters across a strip of colored paper. I imagine my aging hands rolling that paper into the pause of space inside my own circle.
I tape each child securely into our chain.
I watch my chest rise and fall with emotion;
and I give thanks.
Give Thanks and Heavenly Choirs are both published in sheet music. They are available in my milk box, and also found in Hal Leonard and Warner Brother's Christmas piano compilations. Yup, right there with the tunes of Irving Berlin and Mel Torme. My publisher told me to set the books out at Christmas time, so if perchance someone saw them on the piano they could be impressed and I could respond; "What, that? Oh, that's just a little tune I wrote, it's nothing really."
You can hear a recording of this song in the music box at the bottom of the page. Scroll to, and then click on, GIVE THANKS in the first player.