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Life as performance art

Life as performance art

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By Fr. G. Corwin Stoppel

For those of us 60 and older, think back to Thanksgiving Day 55 years ago. We remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when we heard that President Kennedy had been assassinated Nov. 22 in Dallas.

Our world had been frightening enough before then. There had been the irrational anxiety a few years earlier of what might happen if we elected a Roman Catholic to the White House.

A few months later we held our collective breaths, certain nuclear war could break out any moment, because of the Cuban Missile Crisis. We were in the midst of the Cold War and our radios had two red lines at the start and end of the dials telling us where to get instructions if it became a hot war.

There was troubling news about Americans being killed in some faraway country still listed as French Indo-China on our maps. We’d learn it was Vietnam and the news would keep getting worse there.

Financial columnists were warning of dark clouds coming. Soon after the country slipped into the worst recession since the Great Depression. There were stories of civil unrest, racial tension, bigotry and people dying because of their skin color.

Those of us who were children that year were the lucky ones. Adults graciously allowed us to remain shielded and naive to what was happening. The grown-ups put on a brave face, but the anxiety was there in their minds and quiet conversations.

How was it possible that year to think about Thanksgiving Day? Yet somehow we did. Large or small, we had a special meal, took the day off from work to be with others and focused our attention on other things. We made it through a challenging day and had hopes for a merrier and happy Christmas.

Here we are again, still facing challenges that have dogged individuals, families, communities and nations. Despite the optimistic talk 55 years ago about winning the War on Poverty, it still clings to us like mould. Racism, bigotry, hate — still present and accounted for. Same for political tensions and animosity.

Add to it the growing climate of violence, power abuses, domestic violence. It can be hard to look at Thanksgiving without a tinge of cynicism.

There is something else I remember from that Thanksgiving Day after the President was killed. It was help- ful then and may be again.

Mother dispatched my sister and me to our rooms, paper and pencil in hand, to list all the reasons for which we were thankful. We made her promise to call us in time to see Santa coming down the street in living black-and-white on our Philco TV during the Macy’s Parade —and she did.

It was hard making a list of reasons to be thankful, especially knowing I would be expected to add the names of my pesky little sister’s name and/or our “mean” teacher. I wasn’t keen about listing having to practice accordion for 20 minutes every afternoon.

We set to work making our lists. To our horror, we then had to read them aloud right in front of aunts, uncles and cousins between the turkey and pumpkin pie.

I doubt our lists had much impact on a broken and fragile world that year, but they did on us. And they still can.

Instead of looking at the negatives, we, if only for a few minutes, focused on the positive, living out the words of the old song, “Count your blessings, one by one.” Maybe, if only for a few minutes, the grown-ups forgot their worries, too.

We still have many challenges ahead of us, but until we start listing the good stuff in our lives and world, we’ll see them only as problems, not opportunities.

Let’s take a few moments this Thanksgiving to go back, perhaps sing a chorus or two of “Over the River and through the Woods” and get cracking on our list of reasons we are grateful. It will make the turkey more flavorful and pie sweeter.

Have a wonderful day of thanksgivings.