Each year at this time I try to give renewed contemplation to the theme of *Thanksgiving. Because my experience in life has led me to appreciate the deep significance of gratitude and its expression, I try to dive into this theme and emerge with a perspective somewhat different from previous years. This year there have been lots of opportunities to engage this meditation without waiting for this particular season of reflection, and it has led to a perspective expressed in the title – Thanks for Nothing.
About halfway through this year, on June 6th, my mother, Joyce Dunning, died at the age of 85. I am grateful she died relatively peacefully, surrounded by family, aware that she was leaving us, and spiritually ready. It was also a blessing that, as she had hoped, she died before she lost the ability to live independently in the house where she and my father raised my two sisters and me.
I can’t adequately say how grateful I am for the lives she and my father lived and gave to their family and friends, and the many ways they made the world a better place than the one they were born into. Both of them were children of the Great Depression and abusive alcoholic fathers. For part of my mother’s childhood, she lived in a dirt-floor shack, enduring both physical and emotional hardships. My father, Buddy Dunning, also had a difficult childhood, one that was very unstable as the family moved from place to place, often more than once a year, due in large part to his father’s alcoholism.
Even so, my parents resolved that they would learn from their parents’ mistakes rather than emulate them. So, while my parents were demanding, and sometimes perhaps even more harsh than they needed to be, they nonetheless provided a home for their children that was far more stable, safe, and healthy than either of them had known. It was a home in which faith, hope, and love reigned.
Certainly, I am profoundly thankful for the home they made, and the mutual trust, understanding, kindness, and warmth they engendered among my sisters and me, and that now lives in our extended families. In many ways, we are each very different people with our own lifestyles, attitudes, and beliefs, but we also each learned from our parents that these things, even as cherished as some of them are, are nonetheless superficial compared to that which underlies as well as transcends everything.
In addition to losing my mother this year, Susan and I also lost our two beloved cats, Lefty and Rio. We will always be grateful for the joy, comfort, peace, and companionship they shared with us. Now their memories and spirits are added to those of the other four-legged family members who still live in our hearts, each having helped us become better human beings than we might otherwise have been.
I am also immeasurably grateful for the loved ones who have stood with me, knelt with me, cried with me, laughed with me, and listened, counseled, or sat in silence with me, not only through this trying year but also many times past. My amazing spouse, Susan, and her sweet family, have been through it with me every step of the way, each sharing in the grief and the joys because they all loved my mother, Lefty, and Rio as their own. Countless friends and coworkers, many of whom have been coping with their own significant challenges, have reached out to offer sympathy, compassion, and support in their own ways. Even the simplest gesture has touched me deeply.
So, what in the heck could I possibly mean when I say I am giving thanks for nothing?! Simply this – the events of this year have quickened my appreciation for the fact that my deepest and most abiding gratitude is not for any thing, no object or possession, and not even for the physical presence or memory of loved ones. That for which I am most thankful is quite literally no thing, and no mere idea or attitude. The name I find most appealing for this no-thing is Love, although another might say Truth, Spirit, or God.
Love in this ultimate sense, this Divine sense, is that which brings all things into being, brings all things together, and gives rise to all that is new through the joining and passing away of all that was and is. This Love has no opposite, nothing to resist it, no place where it is not. If such words seem to make no sense, then perhaps they can serve to point beyond the limitations of our sentiments, language, and logic toward the essential Mystery with which every spirituality and science has its own love affair, its own way of embracing an ever more complete knowledge and understanding, each in its own way giving thanks for that No-Thing in which everything has its meaning. My mother and father nurtured in me this gratitude, this love for Love itself, and I am thankful.
* Even though I view thankfulness as universal, and this holiday as an opportunity to remember and celebrate the spiritual unity of humanity, it is nonetheless true that many Native Americans consider Thanksgiving Day as a National Day of Mourning. In my thankfulness, I also remember that much for which I am thankful has come with the cost of horrible atrocities. I wish to honor the many contributions, both willing and unwilling, Native American people have made to the USA and the world.