A Friend Thanksgiving – by Erin Chisel

Looking back over my twenty-nine years, the year 2011 has easily been the worst. My family and I have gone through so much together this year: death, divorce, disease, deceit, and disappointment. As this year comes to a close, I am anticipating, and hopeful for, a positive and happy 2012.

During this challenging year though, I have grown and become a stronger person. I’ve overcome things I never could have imagined facing. It was during these times of tribulation that I truly found things to be thankful for. For every unexpected hurdle I stumbled upon this year, I have found a silver lining. I’ve found something positive, through each day of pain, to be grateful or hopeful about; I’ve made my own happiness to help me through a dark time.

This is where my motivation for A Friend Thanksgiving came from. What could be better right now than decorating my home, planning a meal, spending time in the kitchen, and enjoying a classic dinner with people who are dear to me? As it turns out, nothing is better than that. But before my guests arrived to help cook and eat, I felt it was my duty, as hostess, to prepare something to say when we all sat down together. I searched and searched for the perfect Thanksgiving words. Most everything I found just didn’t feel like me; many things felt forced, cliche, or silly. Finally, I stumbled on a piece of writing simply entitled, “A Thanksgiving Toast.” As I skimmed over it, tears started to fill in my eyes. This toast was flawless. It captured, perfectly, how I am feeling this Thanksgiving. So after the turkey was carved, drinks were poured, and seats were taken, I announced to my guests that I wanted to read something. They sat together, my friends and family, and listened to what I had to say. My hope was to get through it without one tear, but my voice cracked reading the exact sentence I knew it would. Still, my guests listened, nodded, and shed tears too. When the toast was over, we all lifted a glass, and then, from there, stemmed a beautiful evening of food, stories, friendship, and love. Now that, I am truly thankful for.

A Thanksgiving Toast

Sitting down with friends and family today, there will be thanks for the steady currents, flowing out of the past, that have brought us to this table. There will be thanks for the present union and reunion of us all. And there will be prayerful thanks for the future. But it’s worth raising a glass to be thankful for the unexpected, for all the ways that life interrupts and renews itself without warning.

What would our lives look like if they held only what we’d planned? Where would our wisdom or patience — or our hope — come from? How could we account for these new faces at the Thanksgiving table or for the faces we’re missing this holiday?

It will never cease to surprise how the condition of being human means we cannot foretell with any accuracy what next Thanksgiving will bring. We can hope and imagine, and we can fear. But when next Thanksgiving rolls around, we’ll have to take account again, as we do today, of how the unexpected has shaped our lives. That will mean accounting for how it has enriched us, blessed us, with suffering as much as with joy.

That, perhaps, is what all this plenty is for, as you look down the table, to gather up the past and celebrate the present and open us to the future.

There is the short-term future, when there will be room for seconds. Then there is the longer term, a time for blossoming and ripening, for new friends, new family, new love, new hope. Most of what life contains comes to us unexpectedly after all. It is our job to welcome it and give it meaning. So let us toast what we cannot know and could not have guessed, and to the unexpected ways our lives will merge in Thanksgivings to come.

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