Thanksgiving Makes Me Ponder of The Things that Make Our Life Meaningful

On Thanksgiving Day 2010, I received many cards. People thanking family and friends. A few going as far as recognizing the freedoms we enjoy as Americans. The President has pardoned a turkey and his substitutes. He is for parade of “let us get ready for early shopping tomorrow morning.”

There must be something much deeper in Thanksgiving Day than a four-day weekend. The busiest travel time of the year or a family get-together for Turkey and stuffing, cranberry sauce, and for some volunteering at a homeless shelter.

Do not get me wrong. I am all for a long holiday especially given that many people took the whole week off. There is noticeably less traffic in the streets. I do appreciate a family gathering especially as my cousins have labored a whole week cooking. I even flip through these e-mails, a send-and-forget expression of thanks.

So I stopped this morning to think about a single thing for which I am thankful. Then came another, and a third. I am thankful for being healthy and for being spared from great tragedy. I am grateful for an American soldier coming back from a first, second or even third tour of duty in a foreign land that hates us. And most of all, I am thankful for memories of those who made sacrifices for me so that I can have boundless opportunities.

Take a moment, close your eyes and think what may you be thankful for. As you open your eyes, join me on this short journey of memory and come with me to places that I hold dear.

Before AIDS became an epidemic, we did not use disposable examination gloves or disposable syringes. Those of us old enough will remember a metal needle when we received inoculation. Today, it would be conceived as an instrument of torture.

It was in those pre-AIDS days, that blood donations were only tested for threats known at the time. Thus, those in need of dialysis or blood transfusions or treatment against horrible illnesses such as cancer were at great threat. But, they did not know.

It was in the mid-80s when the mystery of HIV-AIDS was deciphered. I remember reading about those infected who were not homosexuals. They shared a commonality. They were twice victims, first of a treatment against an illness, which then affected them by a yet-unknown agent. I said a silent prayer.

It was several decades earlier that those refugees, barely alive remnants of the concentration camps, started arriving in British Mandate Palestine. Their hair was shaved completely. They were treated with gasoline or DDT which is very effective agents against lice and other diseases. The same agents were used to disinfect their clothes,the mattresses and sheets on which they slept.

Need I tell you the results of using gasoline or DDT?

That was necessity, and we did not know better. Also, there were no better alternatives at that time.

In the same era, smoking was glorified. Cowboys in billboards were models of lust, popularity and appreciation. It was “cool” to smoke. Likewise, having a deep tan after spending hours unprotected in the sun was envied by most.

The price was to be paid years later. We really did not know better.

Imagine the things we are doing today that will be discovered as the root cause for diseases and other evils in the future. Had we only known, we would say in decades to come, we would obviously have abstained, reduced consumption and changed our habits and behaved drastically differently.

Had we only known…

Possibly then we would eat a little less and exercise a little more?

Or waste less water, or focus on recycling?

You see, these are the simple things in life like turning the faucet and having running water, fresh and drinkable, transparent in color and not containing hazardous materials or organisms unseen by the naked eye, for which I am grateful.

I am also grateful for the sacrifices of others. They are almost unknown to me. They were serving us overseas. Their worried spouses and families are left back at home as they with meager income.

Defending America? Why do we even have to be in Iraq or Afghanistan? Let them come back home. Who even needs a military? We are quite protected here in America.

Then the person returns home to a life that has not stopped. He or she may look around in awe knowing that not a single person will wave and say “thanks,” not even a whisper. The burden was yours, your spouse’s and your children. Alone. Not shared by all.

Inside your pocket will be some two hundred dollars worth of Iraqi Dinars still leftover, but where will you be able to exchange them?

Our banker told me the story of soldiers returning home. He was unable to exchange the money into tradable currency. They might buy a skateboard for their daughter this coming Christmas.

I was astonished: “Do they have a proof they are military? That they just came back?” Yes, he said. “And the military does not have exchange facilities?” No, he said.

His brother, too, returned from Iraq. So the issue is close to his heart.

What bothered me most was the fact the two hundred dollars for them is a lot of money. It is not a luxury they can keep in foreign currency and many years from now show their grown up children or their grandchildren.

I again gave thanks for all those who do the thankless job of defending us.

I talked about the present and the past. We should give thanks for those seemingly ordinary things that surround us. We should be thankful for the bounty that seems endless and the sacrifices of the past.

We must also give very special thanks to those who made everything possible. They have instilled some values and memories in us who brought us into this world. They walked with us to the end of their days.

We often find them at convalescent homes, more commonly marketed as “homes for the aged” or “retirement homes.” Places they are thrown into and then forgotten. They are used up, weak and deteriorating.

It is on Thanksgiving Day- as well as on all days of the year- that we should visit them. We can spend a few minutes even though it is difficult and seems too long to take away from our very busy schedules.

Would we be where we are without their sacrifices?

Could we brighten their day, or their week, even for a moment or two?

Could we bear to hear the complaints, see the insurmountable difficulties walking, even talking?

Perhaps we are simply afraid of witnessing our own inevitable future. We will once be in their stead in exactly the same or very similar, situation?

So is it denial?

In many ways we bury those closest to us while they are still alive. We shun them. We don’t give the time of the day to pick up the phone, call them and take the kids to visit them.

On this Thanksgiving Day, with the Turkey and the stuffing, the cranberry sauce and all the other goodies, let us take a moment and close our eyes.

Let us think of those to whom we owe very special thanks, events, conditions or people.

On this Thanksgiving weekend, let us not do what we constantly do which we plan to stand in line to shop in early morning. Instead, let us look around and enjoy the moment, the memories, gifts of the spirit present, past and future.

In the series “Postcards from Israel,” Ari Bussel and Norma Zager invite readers throughout the world to join them as they present reports from Israel as seen by two sets of eyes: Bussel’s on the ground, Zager’s counter-point from home. Israel and the United States are inter-related – the two countries we hold dearest to our hearts – and so is this “point – counter-point” presentation that has, since 2008, become part of our lives.