Thanksgiving is a day for the senses…
The voices of loved ones and ripples of laughter, giggles and squeals as children play and run through the home, the opening of the oven door for just another peak, the whir of a mixer, banging of pots and pans, the soft intake of breath from an adult as the children help set the precious china on the table with exuberance, the humble reverence of the prayer before the meal, the soft clinking of silverware and glasses that replaces conversation as the meal is enjoyed, and of course the sighs and groans of approval and gratitude as tummies are filled (and maybe buttons are unbuttoned!).
Oh the smells. The homey warmth of fresh baked breads and pies. The herb-tinged aroma of turkey hanging in the air, growing thicker and stronger throughout the day. The sweet and savory smells of spices – ginger, nutmeg, thyme, sage – all combining to create a sense memory that will bring you right back to this day in your memories all year long. But it’s more than just the food. It’s the slight hint of mom’s perfume – gardenia and sandalwood – that envelops you just as tightly as her arms as she pulls you in, holding you against her chest in a warm hug, breathing in her own sense memory. It’s the dry aroma of flour that tickles your nose as you kiss your grandma on the cheek and she playfully pats your arm, releasing a soft, white cloud into the air. It’s the crisp, cool scent of the air that bites gently at your face, then retreats in a frosty mist as you exhale. It’s the distinctive, sharp yet sweet sting of woodsmoke as it invades your nose and throat, kindling fond memories of past winters and holidays that glow in your heart like embers.
As a child, our eyes would widen at the sight of the large golden turkey, or the mountains of mashed potatoes with rivers of gravy, and most of all, the tantalizing trays of colorful, fresh baked cookies, pies and desserts, made with love by parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. But as the years add a bit of wisdom to those eyes (and inches to the waistline), our sight becomes sharpened – focusing beyond the bounty ON the table, to the bounty AROUND the table. We treasure Grandma’s smiling eyes as she watches her grandchildren devour the desserts. We smile and bite back a laugh as Grandpa unbuttons his pants and leans back patting his belly, announcing that he has made room for pie. Our eyes drift around the table, filling with tears of gratitude for every chair filled by a loved one… and tears of bittersweet sorrow and remembrance for every empty one. Our mind’s eye can still recall the sight of their smiling faces looking back at us, and it can still elicit a smile from us in return.
Of course, no Thanksgiving reflection would be complete without a nod to the MVP sense of the day. It’s our tastebuds’ favorite day of the year! Our mouths water just thinking about it. That secret recipe in mom’s stuffing that has been the subject of family discussion for years. That “is it sweet or is it savory” side dish question that we can’t quite seem to answer, finally arriving on the conclusion, it is the perfect combination of both! Our sense of taste is taken on a journey on this day that is exhausting and exhilarating, from the gentle pillow-soft airiness of the rolls, through the heady, spice-laden and savory jungle of the turkey and stuffing, bursting into the bright and tart sunshine of cranberry and orange, and finally settling into the sweet, dreamy cushions of pies and creamy decadence. It’s a thrill ride for the palate.
Perhaps the most overlooked and most underappreciated of all the Thanksgiving senses is touch. It is one of the holiday’s greatest blessings. The feel of your grandma’s hand in yours as you say the Thanksgiving prayer; hands that have lovingly cared for generations of her family – hands that have changed physically over the years, but the loving touch within them remains unwavering. The subtle reminder of the years passing as you lift your niece high into the air and swing her around; her feet stretching just a little closer to the ground, your arms aching just a little more as you feel the weight of the past year. Perhaps the greatest of all Thanksgiving traditions, the hugs at the front door – welcoming loved ones from far and wide, literally closing the space between you in an instant as you hold one another for just another breath, wanting to savor this moment just as much… no, more, than you will savor the meal. And, as a bittersweet bookend to the day, repeating this embrace as you release them at the end of the day, cherishing the memories until you are able to hold them in your arms again.
A sensory treasure chest…
We lock all these precious sensory memories in the most treasured and sacred part of our mind. A treasure that our heart has the key to unlock. We play them back like a movie reel… pausing, rewinding, freezing… never fast forwarding. These memories are to be slowed down, savored, enjoyed and sipped like a fine wine. Close your eyes, inhale the bouquet, hold the flavors and revel in them, giving special recognition to the uniqueness of each one.
Take a moment on this day and open that treasure chest of your happiest memories; recall that particular someone who wrapped their arm around you, who showed you love and grace. Whisper an acknowledgement of gratitude and love, and you will hear that whisper echoed back, reverberating within you. You are loved. You are valued. And realize that YOU are that special someone to another soul on this earth; that on this day someone is whispering that prayer of gratitude for YOU.
Reconciling the Sense of Loss with Gratitude
It is a harsh and biting truth that not all holidays are created equal. Some will spend their Thanksgiving in silence this year, or with fewer voices around them. For many, this holiday loses its sweet and enticing sensations, and instead becomes a season of pain, loneliness, or regrets; reminders of what has been lost, or perhaps was never found. The festivities circle all around you, yet you feel lost in a vacuum, alone and forgotten in the eye of the celebratory storm.
Perhaps you can’t bring yourself to recall those sense memories of the past; perhaps they are too painful, or simply lost to another time and place, or maybe never even happened at all. But, in the midst of this, my prayer is that you awaken the greatest of all the senses – the knowledge that you are greatly loved, valued, and treasured.
We may have never met, but I am grateful for you!
I am thankful that you are here; that you have been given the ability to share your beauty, talents, and strengths with others, to help them recognize their worth as well. After all, to me, that is really what gratitude on Thanksgiving is all about. Gratitude for the love we have received, and the ability we have to spread that love.
We are all a unique secret ingredient. We bring something that no one else does, that no one can replace or replicate, when we recognize our value, adding a bit of ourselves yet complementing the other flavors at the table. On this day, I am GRATEFUL for you. I am GRATEFUL for me. I am GRATEFUL for God’s gifts of unconditional love, grace, and mercy. I am GRATEFUL to be able to share those gifts with everyone, around his boundless table.