by Father Mark Goldasich
Forget Halloween. Thanksgiving is much scarier. That day ushers in the holiday season, which means that from now until the end of the year, time will rush by even faster. To keep things in perspective, take a deep breath and read the following story:
A childless couple had raised their orphaned nephew named David. They’re now standing at the railroad station as David gets ready to leave for college. David looked at his aunt and uncle: she, with hands hard from selling fruits and vegetables outdoors in all kinds of weather, face ruddy and round and invariably smiling; he, with his slight, wiry body, strong and bent from lifting too many fruit and vegetable crates for too many years, the windburned skin; this childless couple who had taken him into their home, rearing him since the age of seven, yet refusing to be called Mama and Papa for fear he would forget his real parents.
David grabbed their rough peddlers’ hands in his smooth ones and said, “How can I ever repay you two for what you’ve done for me?”
His uncle spoke gently, “David, there’s a saying: ‘The love of parents goes to their children, but the love of these children goes to their children.’”
“That’s not so,” protested David, “I’ll always be trying to . . .”
His aunt interrupted and said, “David, what your uncle means is that a parent’s love isn’t to be paid back. It can only be passed on.” (Adapted from “The Nephew,” found in William J. Bausch’s “A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers.”)
This story nicely describes what the last few weeks of the year should be about: remembrance, gratitude and generosity. It’s interesting that the aunt and uncle above are not named. They didn’t do what they did — raise David — for any glory or recognition. The orphan David, now an adult, sees this and is grateful. Although that’s a great beginning, it’s not enough. The couple’s wise words impart one more lesson to him: Don’t worry about repaying; instead, pass on the love, concern, and care received to others.
Ideally, this is what Thanksgiving and the holiday season are to look like. We take time to recall the many people who have touched our lives with blessings and we respond with humility and gratefulness. But that’s only the start. Honestly, we can’t hope to ever repay parents, for example, for all the sacrifices they endured for our sakes. No, what gives the giver of any gift the most joy is to see a generous heart created in the recipient, a heart that can’t wait to share blessings with others.
The holidays give us a glimpse of how we’re called to behave all year long. It’s no accident that needy families are adopted in these days, that food is collected for the hungry, that toy drives are held at stores, that red buckets and ringing bells all around town call us to contribute even our spare change to help those who have so little. In these ways, we “repay” those who have been so good to us: We recycle their love to others and perhaps inspire those who are helped to then do the same.
I’ll close with a poem that was sent to me for Thanksgiving a couple of years ago. Naturally, finding who originally wrote this is difficult. Most sources will say it’s by an anonymous author, but I have seen it attributed to Jimmy Stewart, to Jimmy Dean, and to John Paul Moore. Well, I’m grateful to whoever wrote “Drinking from My Saucer” and I now pass it on to you:
“I’ve never made a fortune/And I guess it’s too late now./But I don’t worry about that much/Because I’m happy anyhow./As I go through life’s journeys,/I’m reaping better than I sowed,/For I’m drinking from my saucer/ Because my cup has overflowed.
“I don’t have a lot of riches,/And sometimes the going’s tough./ But I’ve got a family who loves me,/And that makes me rich enough./So I just thank God for his blessings/And the mercy he’s bestowed./I’m drinking from my saucer,/Because my cup has overflowed.
“I remember times when things went wrong,/And faith grew kind of thin./But all at once, those dark clouds broke,/And the sun peeped through again./So, Lord, help me not gripe/ About the tough rows I have hoed./I’m drinking from my saucer, /Because my cup has overflowed.
“And if God grants me strength and courage,/When the ways grow steep and rough,/I’ll not ask for other blessings,/‘Cause I’ve been blessed enough./And may I never be too busy to help another bear his load,/And I’ll keep drinking from my saucer,/Because my cup has overflowed.”