“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived” Henry David Thoreau, Walden
A few weeks ago, we stopped at the site where Henry David Thoreau built his cabin and walked nearly two miles around the pond. In early November, autumn has settled deeply in, and winter approaches. The woods in which he chose to pare down to essentials remains. The chestnuts and the elms are gone, but red oak, white oak, white pine, Canadian hemlock and white spruce remain sprinkled with alder, paper birch and poplar – resplendent with the New England fall palette.
Oak leaves cling late into the year, some persist nearly until spring like pleasant regrets and hope for an annual reawakening. The peace of the place and the replica cabin where he lived so simply leads to long thoughts. My friend, Anthony Vinson from Atlanta, who has been referenced here before, sent this out in his pre holiday newsletter: the concept of happiness through the accumulation of stuff has failed. Of course, he is right.
“(We) ought to use the world, not become its slave. And what does this mean? It means having, as though not having.” St. Augustine
On Thanksgiving Day, we gather with family and friends, mindful of the many blessings of our lives, most especially the beloved we gather with and those beloved who gather in other places. If we preserve a Thanksgiving tradition asking around the table for that which we are most grateful in the past year, rarely will it be a new car or flat screen television. Health renewed or new found faith, the birth of a grandchild, the steadfast love of our children and spouse, perhaps a fresh job or reuniting with a long separated loved one – those are what we cherish.
Gratitude as a way of life brings us happiness. Joy follows peaceful reflection on captured opportunities to love in our lives. We are not grateful because we are happy; we are happy because we are grateful. Even in our most trying circumstances, we are most able to cope with patience and love because of gratitude for our many blessings – past, present and future.
Father James, our pastor at St. Patrick Church, reminded us this morning that thanksgiving is not just an annual dinner, but we should be thanksgiving people every day — several times a day. Each day offers many moments and occasions to be grateful. When we pause, reflect, are thankful and then go forward with loving thoughts, words and actions, we become most happy. All of us have many chances to grow, to love, to get it right, however our spins around the sun on this tired old planet are finite. Eventually we run out of mulligans. We ought not to waste them in trivial pursuits and barren quests to fill the hole in our hearts with non essential and ephemeral goods.
“When a potter is making a vessel and it becomes misshapen or breaks in his hands, he shapes it again; but once placed in the oven, it is beyond repair.” Unknown second century homilist.