How we can give thanks despite recent tragedies

An update: My dining room table is still the repository for newspapers, both secular and Jewish, sent to me by Pittsburgh family in the days following the Tree of Life massacre. Anyone who wants to see the remarkable outpouring of “Love Is Stronger Than Hate,” just let me know.
The Steelers even changed their three-icon stack logo for print, substituting a Star of David for the one on top. And things continue to come in; I don’t know how long this will go on.
But we must go on. All of us. Thanksgiving is upon us. How can anyone affected by such evil as we’ve recently witnessed (and I do not discount the 12 who died soon after the earlier tragedy, also by gunshot, in a California country music bar) — which should be just about everyone in our country — give thanks for anything after such horrors? (Maybe just the selfish thought of personal safety — at least up to this point.)
I found the best answer yet by happy accident when I picked up a random magazine while waiting in a doctor’s office. It was the newest issue of Family Circle, and the message from Cheryl Brown, its editor-in-chief, was right on point — even though it was written well before both these recent tragedies.
She begins by telling how she was running late for work one morning, carrying too many things — including a carton of yogurt and a cup of coffee — and when she saw an elevator door starting to close on its upward way toward her office, she just threw herself in. A man already inside who saw how upset she was helped her get organized, and then he said this: “Hey, things aren’t so bad — you’ve got breakfast and a job. Try to see the positive side.”
What Brown thought was, “He’s absolutely right.” And then she listed her blessings: A roof over her head, with heat. Food. Clean clothes. Health. Family and friends. This started her on some conversations, first with those friends and then with the magazine’s staff, about the necessity for gratitude, the real need for people to be thankful for whatever they have. If they manage to have the things she listed, which most of those who read Family Circle do have and yet likely take for granted: “That makes us rich by almost any standard,” she decided.
The elevator encounter turned out to set the theme for the entire issue of Family Circle that I was holding in my hands, with its focus on how all people can and should give back, in appreciation for what they already have. The suggestion is that doing things to help others — no matter how little those things are — becomes the building blocks of both family and community.
Brown ends her monthly editorial column with this timely — and humorous — personal touch: “Every year I’m thankful I have somewhere to go for the Thanksgiving holiday meal,” she begins. “This year, I’m also thankful I’m not doing any cooking, only some bringing.” To finish, she gives an additional thank-you for the great bakeries in New York City, where she works and lives, and where she can pick up something good for the “bringing.”
I continue to wonder what the bereaved families in both Pittsburgh and Thousand Oaks can manage to give thanks for this year. Is it possible that this year will be a strange Thanksgiving without thanks? The brutality of those sad days took away loved ones and replaced that take-away with nothing but sadness, longing and those haunting “what if?” questions: Why them? Why there? What if they hadn’t been wanting to pray, or to hear some favorite songs? These are the questions without answers.
But at our own tables this year, how about all of us saying a prayer and singing a song in their memory? Making memories of those we didn’t even know might be our own “giving back.”

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