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Dr. Doe on Thanksgiving

November 2022
  • Dr. Doe West

Many countries have a national day of giving thanks, with a wildly diverse set of traditions throughout history that then create a set of even more diverse legends and symbolism. All of this creates a feast of living tradition!

In America, a major part of our tradition revolves around an actual feast/meal that usually includes turkey (large enough to create leftovers and a final vat of soup), stuffing/dressing (so named by whatever state you live in), cranberry sauce (jellied or whole berry depending on taste and texture preference) and pumpkin pie (a la mode, with whipped cream or finished off at midnight in the light of the refrigerator!). 

For some – and I am grateful to say for an ever-growing number of folks – it is a day for acting out the true spirit of Thanksgiving and gratitude by providing for others. This is the one day that food banks fill and free community meals flow in abundance with both food and volunteers to serve it.

The reason for the thanks varies. The dates vary. But the focus – the giving of thanks – is a unifying factor.
The feast on a table is just food without the primary ingredient of gratitude. No matter the table or the food. We seek to respond to true hunger and need in those around us. The tradition is (and should be) calling us to be aware that it is not the groceries purchased but the gratitude freely given.

As one who has served in the field of Human Services for many decades now, I have participated in this annual unity around the concept and real-life expression of Thanksgiving with, yes, ever-growing gratitude. The impact of COVID-19 on what expressions we had is creating greater gratitude for many. But also, has left many chairs around the table empty of those we love. I offer that we need to fill those spots with special expressions of love. Pull out old traditions that had to be skipped but even more importantly, fill that space with new ways of offering thanks. Invite someone to share a meal. Volunteer in serving a meal. Enter into an awareness of deep and honest gratitude that we have this next opportunity to express gratitude in our lives.

I joke by saying I wear two hats and a collar due to my being a professor, a psychotherapist, and an interfaith chaplain. My gratitude is linked to all three. As a professor, I love entwining life and learning with our students. As a psychotherapist, I have seen the healing and hope restored to lives when people allow gratitude to be the fulcrum for change and growth. And as an interfaith chaplain, I love providing spiritual care to persons of all religions, faiths, wisdom-based teachings and/or lives lived without labels.

When I teach classes on cultural competency, I love sharing on that unity beyond labels. I love teaching that every sacred text used by the diverse set of major religions found in America all hold language that shares the concept of “The Golden Rule.”  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

The definition of this phrase differs in language and cultural expression - but is one spiritual truth and place of unity in our humanity if we open to that truth. We need to share that unity of respect for, and enact care for, one another and ourselves. We need to join in this feast of living tradition with thanksgiving!

In truth, I give heartfelt thanks every day for my students and the sacred role they play in my life.
QCC Gratitude indeed…

*Thanksgiving is a national holiday celebrated on various dates in the United States, Canada, Grenada, Saint Lucia, and Liberia. It began as a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year. Similarly named festival holidays occur in Germany and Japan. It is observed by these countries: Canada, Grenada, Liberia, Saint Lucia, Leiden (Netherlands), Norfolk Island (Australia), and Territories of the United States. Date: 2nd Monday in October (Canada), 1st Thursday in November (Liberia), Last Wednesday in November (Norfolk Island), 4th Thursday in November (U.S. and Brazil)

This is a guest column by QCC faculty member Dr. Doe West, professor of Human Services and board-certified human services practitioner.