A Pandemic Thanksgiving: the Gift of Perspective
You may be starting to panic about your Thanksgiving plans. It is recommended that you hold your festive dinner outside, but what if it's ten degrees, with three feet of snow? Isn't Thanksgiving about a huge family gathering? What about all the news of college students coming home and infecting their grandparents? Should you dis-invite the students, keep the grandparents locked up at home, or both?
Take a deep breath. Thanksgiving is not really about turkeys and touch football, but it is about giving thanks--for what you do have, no matter what the circumstance. In the midst of this pandemic that seems to have stripped away so many of our traditions, I reminded myself that "everything can be taken from a person but one thing: the last of the human freedoms--to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." Viktor Frankl, Auschwitz concentration camp survivor, voiced that truth. When you hear the word "Auschwitz," your heart immediately draws you to the important principle of perspective. Perhaps Frankl never would have learned to free himself from allowing his circumstances to control him, rather than vice versa, if he did not experience the loss of nearly everything comfortable and dear to him.
We have lost much in 2020, and some have lost loved ones to death as Frankl did. Those of us who have been fortunate to still have all of our friends and family around us (though it may be only via Zoom and FaceTime) might feel more satisfied in our lonely but warm homes, if we remember the hardships others have overcome. In the bitter concentration camp winters, Frankl and his companions slept nine men to a 6.5 x 8 feet bunk, directly on the boards, sharing two blankets. Frankl recalled, "though it was forbidden to take shoes up to the bunks, some people did use them secretly as pillows in spite of the fact that they were caked with mud." Look around you. What little luxuries have you forgotten in your pandemic prison?
Frankl, a psychotherapist, decided that, after we go through a difficult experience, we need to "reorient" ourselves "toward the meaning of life." "What matters, therefore," he theorized, "is not the meaning of life in general, but rather the specific meaning of a person's life at a given moment." Our moment is a worldwide pandemic. At Thanksgiving. And as long as this pandemic lasts.
Take time this Thanksgiving season to reorient yourself toward the meaning of life. Frankl believed that "everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out"--an actual "concrete assignment which demands fulfillment." Therefore, "everyone's task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it."
My neighbor took time to bring me a loaf of chocolate-chocolate chip bread with a small card tied to the cellophane bag that read: "It is not happy people who are thankful; it is thankful people who are happy." A small act of kindness coupled with a sage message.
Resolve to have a happy and thoughtful Thanksgiving. Take a step toward finding your mission in this pandemic, or at least finding a small task each day that makes you feel more hopeful and courageous, that makes someone else feel loved and valued, and that makes you grateful for your daily breath. When this pandemic comes to an end, you may find that layers upon layers of small daily acts of kindness, if only a series of texts to share a laugh with your friends, prove to be your mission accomplished.
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Read the real thing: Man's Search for Meaning, by Viktor Emil Frankl (1905-1997). Beacon Press: Boston, first published 1946 (Kindle audiobook version available on Amazon).