Get back to the basics this Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving. My favorite day of the year by far. Twenty-four hours set aside to reflect on the positive aspects of our lives and give thanks.

For many families Thanksgiving 2008 will be a holiday like none before. Families who have lost their jobs. Families whose income was based on interest rates and dividend checks. Families facing foreclosure. The carefree lives many families have lived for the past years is gone. In other cases families are working, saving, not spending, just waiting for the next shoe to drop.

I am reminded of a dam breaking some years ago, devastating and destroying a town. As the residents tried to grasp what had happened and how to go on, one of the local leaders spoke. His message was that this is an opportunity to put the words we have all spoken so often in good times to action ­— to go back to some basic principles. It is the time to put petty differences aside to help our neighbors. It is, he stressed, the time to band together as one group to survive and grow. A time to seek out, and help, a neighbor in need without being asked. It is the time to give when it hurts a little, ask for help even when it hurts a lot. It is time to be especially kind to those less fortunate. The incident, he concluded, was an opportunity to get back to the basics. To be reminded that we don’t need the newest clothes and gadgets, a refrigerator full of food (much of which will go to waste) or to spend for spending’s sake.

There was a time when my family was poor. We had no jobs and no refrigerator. One of my daily tasks was to go to the grocery store for ice to keep the food cold. We slept on cots, not beds. All we had was each other. As time went on we got jobs, and beds, and appliances. During those days we may have been poor financially, we certainly weren’t poor personally. I read voraciously. We played cards daily and went to the park or library, activities that cost nothing. We entertained ourselves and felt stronger as a family unit than we had ever before or, unfortunately, since.

In the years to come, when, as the saying goes “this, too, has passed,” perhaps some of us will look back at these times like my days sleeping on a cot. While it was not fun, it made me a better person. I appreciate more the benefits of prosperity. Going to work seems more of an honor than a chore. I became re-acquainted with free activities available in the area – parks, libraries, cards and board games. I became a better manager of money and more reasonable and practical. In the end, I was reminded that the basics of a happy life are not affected by “keeping up with the Joneses,” the value of a stock, or being among the first to have this or do that.

On this Thanksgiving Day, and the weeks to come, we should all strive to react as the citizens of a destroyed town did years before. To put aside our petty differences to help a neighbor. To be generous even if it hurts a little and ask for help from others even if it hurts a lot. To be especially kind. To offer a smile and nod of recognition quickly to passing strangers. So that we can rebuild our community and its families at this tough time one effort, one smile, one donation, and one kindness at a time. And get back to some of the basic human values that have made our families and our community strong.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Jeff Tolman


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