The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is certainly busy for everyone. However, it is also a time when we should hit the pause button and gently remind ourselves of what is most important about this time of year.
It is altogether too easy to get caught up in Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the deluge of advertisements for getting whatever you think you need with next-day delivery. It calls to mind the comments made by the comic Lewis Black when he performed at the Orpheum in September. In essence, he said that as he travels the country on tour, he was surprised how everyone seems to be happy despite the nature of our divisions and politics. He realized it was about knowing that if you wanted something, all you had to do was touch a button and it would be on your doorstep the next morning.
This Thanksgiving, our son Mark hosted the annual family gathering. Thirteen of us came from Sioux City and Indiana to join his family of four along with a few in–laws from the area. As we sat down, Mark spoke words that helped us all ground ourselves in the real essence of this time of year. He recalled how he and his wife had visited Prince’s mansion in the Minneapolis area shortly after his untimely death. While there, he reflected on his deep appreciation of Prince's genius and creativity. He wondered if Prince had realized how much he was appreciated by his fans and what a difference he made in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Elaborating on those thoughts, my son spoke passionately about the importance of expressing appreciation, kindness and love to the people we hold most precious in our lives. Memories are indeed priceless and a decent eulogy is poignant, but praise, gratitude and affection to the living are vastly more significant. Needless to say, there were few dry eyes at the table.
My son’s words preceded a festive meal and good conversation. I share this with the hope that similar feelings and thoughts were expressed around your Thanksgiving table. We need to remind ourselves how important family is and to acknowledge the fundamental reality of the family as the core social structure for the communication of values, traditions and caring. Some of us are fortunate enough to be able to share wonderful experiences with three or four generations gathered together. And in some families the sharing can wonderfully include five generations. These gatherings are opportunities to share love, appreciation and history. And it is the history and the stories shared that really matter.
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Also, we need to build on this family foundation and be willing to extend those values beyond our own families to the people in our neighborhood and community and to those who, for whatever reason, are without a family. By extension, we could also welcome the immigrants in our area and help them feel part of all our families. We all share the same “table” and we should live our lives with that knowledge and act accordingly.
The result of family values based upon love and kindness and their impact on the world around us is perhaps best expressed in the words of the Chinese philosopher Confucius in the sixth century B.C.: “If there is righteousness in the heart, there will be beauty in the character; if there is beauty in the character, there will be harmony in the home; if there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation; if there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world.”
Family values and traditions are more powerful than we realize and they need to be cherished and shared as often as possible. The positive reinforcement of the love manifested as suggested by my son is something we need to do often and especially at this time of year. In the remaining 17 days between now and Christmas, we all need to look for the opportunity to say good words to our family members, to our friends and to the people we encounter on a daily basis. Every day counts and every good word matters.
In closing, I wish to thank my son for prompting my family to experience the best of the Thanksgiving holiday and generating these thoughts to share with each of you. The warmest of holiday greetings to all.
Next week: Jim Wharton
A Sioux City resident, Jim Rixner is the retired executive director of the Siouxland Mental Health Center, is the current board chairman of the Winnebago Comprehensive Healthcare System and is a former member of the Sioux City Council. He and his wife, Bernadette, are the parents of three adult sons and the grandparents of nine.