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Schubart: Thanks And Giving

I’ve often wondered why Thanksgiving means so much to us as a family. But we’ve always treasured this historic holiday about our founding as a nation, whereas for us Christmas is an uncomfortable combination of religion and consumerism.

In our family, Thanksgiving is a coming together of family, friends and, by tradition, a stranger to enjoy the diverse bounty of our harvests and to express our gratitude for one another. It may be because gratitude, modesty, and humility are so lacking now in our social and media cultures that Thanksgiving becomes an oasis in which we can enjoy and appreciate the close and familiar. Narcissism, arrogance, and entitlement have no place at our tables, at least for our brief time together. Tis the gift to be simple as the Quakers sing.

Humans rightly differentiate knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is a commonly shared exchange and understanding of fact and, in time as we mature, our experience imbues our knowledge with wisdom. From an early age I understood the concept of gratitude when I saw it in others. It was years later that I experienced it in a way that I could feel it.

In the course of my work, I came to know two blind women who were street singers in New York. Baybie Hoover was a preacher with a church in an abandoned storefront in Brooklyn. Virginia was her “deaconess of music.” I’d heard their wonderful and strange songs, had a meal with them, and was invited to their Sunday church service. Baybie told how she’d been blinded at birth by a drunk doctor and was educated at the Kansas School for the Blind. Fostered out at 13 she became pregnant by her foster father at 15. In the home for unwed mothers, her daughter was taken from her and sold. Baybie was sterilized. She and her friend Virginia made the arduous journey by bus to New York to preach on the streets. Lit by her magnificent smile, her sermon was a litany of gratitude for all the good that had befallen her. Five blind street people attended her service. I was the only sighted person in the room – and I watched cockroaches on a plate of day-old sugar doughnuts one of the faithful had brought.

Vermont is benign compared to Baybie’s community but not all our neighbors share our blessings. 77,000 Vermonters live in poverty, 82,000 go hungry and some 3,000 are homeless.

As we come together to give thanks and share a meal, I hope we’ll remember those not at our tables. And as the giant engines of retail crank up for the annual feast of consumption that Christmas has become, to continue to be grateful and share with those in need.

Bill Schubart lives and writes in Hinesburg. His latest book is Lila & Theron.
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