As the bitter cold approaches, we anticipate both the beauty and challenges of a Michigan winter. I savor this time before the December storms, and during most Sunday afternoons, I enjoy fixing foods of comfort for my family (and freezer): soups, stews, and casseroles are the usual offerings. Today, I put on an old, friendly sweater, and as I watch the chili bubble on the stove, I am reminded of a hymn which has woven its way throughout the years of my life:
“Come, Ye Thankful People, Come”
Fifty years ago, my little brothers and I sat in a church pew between my parents the Sunday before Thanksgiving. It was warm in the church, and we snuggled in, doing our best to sit quietly during the endless announcements. Hearing the hymn’s familiar refrain, we stood, cheerfully lifting our voices, joining the warbly, gray-haired sopranos and the stolid, resonate basses standing around us.
I thought of the ears of corn drying in the old corncrib and remembered the shafts of golden wheat that had rippled the fields in July. By the Thanksgiving holiday, the harvesting was done, and my dad and uncle’s combine and corn-picker were dozing lazily in the implement shed.
As we ploughed our way through all the verses, I was flooded with happiness: singing with my family, remembering our bounty, and anticipating the smells and tastes of my mother’s Sunday pot roast simmering in the oven.
I felt safe. I felt loved.
I really didn’t have a word for these feelings, but I know now, what I experienced (and still experience) this time of year is called gratitude.
My favorite lines from the old hymn speak of security and comfort:
is safely gathered in,
Ere the winter storms begin.”
Yes, we are all gathering and planning for the bitter isolation of winter. Service technicians (or handy homeowners) have checked thermostats and changed furnace filters. Firewood has been cut, dried, and neatly stacked. Additional canned goods have muscled their way into our cupboards. A few extra cereal boxes stand side-by-side in our pantries.
These winter preparations help me again remember that despite our ups and downs in this journey of life, I have much to be thankful for.
Today, I am many decades from those Thanksgiving Sundays and many years from keeping our own children content and quiet, but in November, this overwhelming sense of gratitude remains. I know now, of course, that my parents weren’t without concerns during our childhood; many Thanksgivings they were worried about a loved one’s illness, falling farm commodity prices, or other stressful events outside of their control. But they protected us and kept us safe.
As we plan for this holiday season, it is my hope that we notice and reach out to those who are struggling, that we appreciate and share what we have, and that we gather in and shelter one another from the storms.
It’s a Fine Life.