The Thanksgiving holiday is next week and most of us will be scrambling to preserve as much family tradition and meaningful gatherings as possible. Our recent Thanksgivings have been jarred by wildfire recoveries, mandatory social distancing, pandemic fears and even by a constant low-register buzzing of political malcontent.

It hasn’t been easy to give clear thoughts about what we should be most thankful for. We are living in times that seem very distant from the Norman Rockwell painting of Americana replete with grandpa carving the big turkey and a full table of children, parents, elders and guests. (Please pass the pumpkin pie.) Have we lost our way of life, or is this just some temporary series of interruptions, challenges and questions?

We don’t know. Our Thanksgiving wish this year is for all local families to share some valuable moments, breaking bread and adding to memories worthy of a painting that could be hung on a wall.

Rollie new mug 6-21

Rollie Atkinson

We have been pummeled by stress-inducing disasters. We lack adequate coping mechanisms, therapies and positive thoughts. Right now, many of us may be doubting the meaning of our lives. Our young people, especially, are feeling unsure about these times that should be their most joyous and empowering. But they have missed over a year of in-person school and have been separated from friends and unable to make new ones.

We couldn’t need a Thanksgiving holiday full of family, friends and traditions any more than we need one now. Thanksgiving can be a time to renew our beliefs in what makes the best parts of our lives. Giving blessings can only be done from a place of hope, promises and meaningfulness. And meaningfulness is what we are missing the most.

When we volunteer at the local food pantry or at the community Thanksgiving dinner we find meaning and a purpose. Sitting around our family holiday table reminds us that it’s not enough to just be happy. Happiness is for sharing. Even watching Turkey Day football games on TV is more fun when the sofa gets crowded. The pandemic stole that from us last year and we want it back — even if we don’t care who wins the televised game.

Above all else, what the pandemic and our recent traumas from wildfires and political strife have stolen from us is our sense of purpose. Just surviving is not a purpose. It’s not enough to feel responsible for ourselves; we want to be responsible for others.

Philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

 The Bible says, “God has made us what we are. In Christ Jesus, God made us to do good works, which God planned in advance for us to live our lives doing.” (Ephesians 2:10.) Buddhism teaches to reach the state of Nirvana, one must lessen the suffering of others.

There is no question that all of us living in Sonoma County, of all ages, backgrounds and colors, have been living through historic challenges. These experiences have made us stronger and better prepared for any future calamities like a wildfire or drought. Locally, we have endured the COVID-19 pandemic better than almost all other regions and parts of the world. We are celebrating Thanksgiving and looking forward to a joyful holiday season with Santa visits, lighted truck parades, festive Hanukkah and Christmas Eve lights and singing.

Thanksgiving is a time to remind ourselves that, maybe, the purpose of life is a life of purpose and that you don’t find a meaning to your life — you have to create it.

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