Season of Gifts

by Mitakuye Oyasin

We have just finished celebrating the forgotten holiday. It falls somewhere between Halloween and Christmas. No, I don't mean to imply that Thanksgiving Day was forgotten. It's more like it got squeezed in between pumpkins and Christmas decorations in a society that seems hell-bent to jump ahead on the calendar.

When I was a boy, the pace was slower. It gave us tine to savor the taste of each season. No one talked about Christmas or dragged decorations from the closet until well after the turkey and trimmings had been digested and the sun had set on Thanksgiving Day for another year. When Friday arrived, everything changed. The Christmas season burst into being, decorations went up, and a hushed excitement filled the ar.

This will explain why, when most people have finished writing about Thanksgiving until next year, I'm just getting started. You see, I happen to believe that it would be better for all of us if, instead of squeezing Thanksgiving into a one day turkey feast, we worked on expanding it. This won't happen, of course, because unless you raise turkeys, there's no profit in it.

But think about this. One of the single biggest ills of American society today is a lack of gratitude. In my daily walk through this life, I meet a variety of people. Some are rich, some are poor. Some are enjoying good heath, while others are sick or handicapped. Some are hyper and some are serene. Some are happy and some are depressed. Some are easily pleased while others are pushy and demanding.

There is no formula. But a common thread runs through those who are considerate, caring,, polite, easy to get along with, and who bring warmth and love to those they meet. They are grateful, regardless of their station in life and their own hardships. It may surprise you, but the most considerate ones are usually the ones who have suffered in some way, whether from illness, accident, or because they have endured economic need. Perhaps they have learned to back up and take inventory, discovering that there is much to be grateful for.

In this time of unprecedented prosperity, you would think that most people would be filled with happiness, love, concern for the needs of the less fortunate, and generally serene. But Charles Dickens knew a hundred and fifty years ago that it doesn't work that way. In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge says to his nephew, "'What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You're poor enough.'

"'Come, then,' returned the nephew gaily. 'What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You're rich enough.'"

The nephew saw the season we are in as "a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time, the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys."

In other words, people are feeling grateful, and while that does not put gold or silver in their pockets, the blessings are without price.

This is a puzzle, isn't it? Why should something so good be limited to a season of the year? Native Americans have always wondered about this, just as they have questioned the need for setting apart one day in seven as a holy day. All days belong to the Great Mystery, and, as Ohiyesa pointed out, "Our whole life is prayer because every act of our life is, in a very real sense, a religious act. Our daily devotions are more important to us than food."

Every day began in the same way. "We wake at daybreak, put on our moccasins and step down to the the water's edge. Here we throw handfuls of clear, cold water into our face, or plunge in bodily.

"After the bath, we stand erect before the advancing dawn, facing the sun as it dances upon the horizon, and offer our unspoken prayer. Each soul must meet the morning sun, the new sweet earth, and the Great Silence alone.

"Whenever, in the course of our day, we might come upon a scene that is strikingly beautiful or sublime ... we pause for an instant in the attitude of worship."

A few years ago, I visited a friend in the hospital. He was diagnosed with terminal leukemia, but he was at peace. He said to me, "Look out the window at those barren winter trees. I had never noticed, in all these years, how beautiful they are."

This is a gift that we can give to ourselves today. We don't have to wait to count our blessings and be grateful. And when we do, we become a gift to all we meet.

Posted to Zephyr Online December 3, 1998
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