Yes, this Thanksgiving is different.

No matter where you stand on COVID-19 or the remedies that have been recommended, which include not gathering in big crowds to celebrate, or even in multi-household get-togethers, we’d almost guarantee this holiday is different for you than 2019’s was.

Over the years, Thanksgiving has fallen far from its meaning as a day of focusing on the things for which are grateful into a day more focused on family get-togethers and food. Gratitude can often get lost in the shuffle between making sure the table setting is perfect and preparations for the Black Friday shopping to come.

But, this year is different, no matter your situation.

If anything, the realities we’re facing should remind us that, despite everything going on, we have much for which to be thankful.

This year, there are more than 250,000 families just here in the United States for whom no Thanksgiving will ever be the same, because there will forever be a loved one missing from the table, a family member who was lost to this pandemic. And that number is growing.

If anything, this year should be a reminder of the tenuous grasp with which we hold on to this life, the thin barrier between this life and the next. And, as a result, it should imbue us with a sense of the value of life and the value of those around us.

The priest and theologian Henri Nouwen wrote the following on gratitude: “The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.”

Gratitude is not something that just “comes.” It’s an attitude that is cultivated over time, as each gift we receive in life, especially those around us, comes into focus as something which we explicitly acknowledge as something for which we have reason to value.

In other words, gratitude is something at which we have to work. Events like holidays should be a reminder for us of this truth, as they draw in bold lines what’s truly important, what really matters.

Perhaps this Thanksgiving, in this dark and chaotic time, can be the beginning point for you. On Thanksgiving, no matter what your day or dinner looks like, take a look at those who are around you. Realize each of those people is a blessing placed in your life, someone of value and worth, someone for who you are grateful.

And maybe, this Thanksgiving, if no other, is the one in which we take the opportunity to not only feel gratitude but to express it, through prayer and through showing and telling those around us how grateful we are for their presence in our lives.

This Thanksgiving is certainly different, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be all bad. Maybe this Thanksgiving can be the one where gratitude begins to blossom in the spaces between the relationships in our lives and thankfulness becomes our main operating principle in dealing with others.

Even in the darkness, this can become something good, something lasting, something which lives far beyond us.

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