Song du Jour

Song du Jour

Benedictine Thoughts, Teachings, and Prayers

In Gratitude



November 26, 2012        


Just four days ago, we experienced another Thanksgiving holiday which evoked many memories of my past. It is important to think forward but when the holidays arrive, I cannot help but to reflect back from childhood to adulthood and all who were part of my journey through my life.


When I was nine years old, my family moved from Pittsburgh, PA to a barrier island along the Jersey Shore known as Ocean City. At that time, the date was September 1961 and the winter population there was only 8,000 people. When Labor Day came, this island turned into a space that I could call my own. My parents owned a guest house known as The Vacationer, across the street from the ocean, where we had the opportunity to greet and meet many people who came to our door looking for a room for the night or a few days or maybe an indefinite stay. My sister and I had to move out of our bedrooms for the summer so that my parents could rent them. On Labor Day each year, we made our way from our garage which was set up as a bedroom for us to our rooms which overlooked the Atlantic Ocean.


 When November came, some days were filled with the smell of clams that washed up on the beach, with the sound of rustling leaves on the streets, with the early darkness of the sky, with the sea gulls flying away from the beach giving a hint that it may snow, and with the chiming of the Flemish carillon from the Methodist Church. Thanksgiving was approaching but the crispness in the air surrounded by dark gray skies let me know that the winter season was near - segueing into the Christmas shopping season.  Every Thanksgiving, I hear the Flemish carillon ringing in my mind, body and soul. They were truly a part of me even though I was not Methodist. In those days, we walked everywhere and the path would eventually lead to the downtown business district which was comprised of only a few blocks. With small businesses offering specialty shops when you needed that special gift for someone and it could only be found there.


 Thanksgiving was now upon us and we waited for my grandmother and Uncle Herb to arrive for our family feast. Life was simple then and the focus seemed to be on a golden bronzed turkey. We thanked God for all that we had and thanked my mother for being such a wonderful cook. As I matured, the holidays remained traditional until deaths occurred and there was one empty chair and a few years later, another empty chair. When my family began to diminish, life changed as did the holidays. We were missing those who were so dear to us, who gathered to share a Kodak memory each year which became etched in my heart forever.


 In 1987, I went to New York to see the Broadway production of Victor Hugo’s play, Les Miserables. One of the musical selections was a song entitled, Empty Chairs and Empty Tables… “There’s a grief that can’t be spoken. There’s a pain goes on and on. Empty chairs and empty tables, now my relatives and friends are dead and gone.” Life evolves and revolves just as the seashells tumble with each incoming wave; as do we. Now my grief has turned into “gratitude” for all of the people that loved me and guided me along into my own circle of life. We all have to experience the traditions, the presence of people in our lives as well as their absences in order to bring us to a place of wisdom…coming to terms with myself and how each person affected my life and who I am today all from sitting around those ritualistic Thanksgiving meals. God was molding me each year as I listened to the family stories from other generations who came before the people sitting at the present table. The chairs emptied but were eventually filled with a new little one and then another; now their children are in the chairs and the circle continues to shape our hearts with new memories that will add to the not so ancient tales told not so long ago.


 On this Thanksgiving, I was asked to say “grace” and before we began to eat, I proceeded to say, “We have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving as there are so many people who are displaced with no home let alone a kitchen and a turkey due to Super-storm Sandy.” My most definite plea to God was for all those who are going without and gratitude for being spared. The turkeys in my life are invisible now because of life’s twists and turns. I have evolved into becoming selfless instead of self-filled. One of my favorite spiritual writers is Edward Hays who is a Catholic priest in Leavenworth, Kansas who is retired but continues to write; the Trinity inspires him to think differently than others as his quill and ink create new ways to look at our soul work. On November 20, 2012, he wrote a reflection on Thanksgiving but entitled it, Thanksvision.


 He says, “I have left to the last the most important reason for gratitude…the invisible gifts. Yet to be really thankful for these requires a special vision. Eyesight gradually diminishes as we age, so it is paradoxical that older people are the expert’s needed exceptional vision. The eyes of the youthful are attracted to externals like physical beauty and consumer possessions, and so when seeing an elderly couple enjoying themselves are bewildered about what they find attractive in one another.”


 One of Edward Hays’ favorite authors, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, said, “One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.” Edward Hays goes on saying, “Heart-seeing is a skill of the elderly who find great attractiveness in indispensable fidelity that’s invisible to the eye. They are so fabulously wealthy because of loving companionships that are impossible to purchase at any price and by the invisible wealth of memories shared.”


 In essence my Thanksgiving has turned into Thanksvision and I am ever grateful for my new found gratitude this year. It is not what the heart knows but what the heart needs to learn and this only comes with daily heart-seeing.


 “That in all things God may be glorified”


Sr. Jo-El McLaughlin, OSB


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