My Thanksgiving

Perhaps my favorite song of the past decade was the final cut on Don Henley’s “Inside Job”, his last studio album. The song is titled My Thanksgiving and is a song in which a man is looking back over the trials and triumphs of his life and his loves. It is in the end a song of reconciliation. If you could wear out a CD or MP3 file from overuse as you could an old album or cassette I’d be in serious trouble.

Because this song is me. It fits. It is who I am at this stage in my life and perhaps my life over the rest of my 40s. But I see it now in many ways. I wish I had a YouTube to post here but no one has added it. I’ve been thinking about it for awhile and if time permits I may just have to be the one to do it.

A lot of things have happened
Since the last time we spoke
Some of them are funny
Some of ’em ain’t no joke
And I trust you will forgive me
If I lay it on the line
I always thought you were a friend of mine

Sometimes I think about you
I wonder how you’re doing now
And what you’re going through

The last time I saw you
We were playing with fire
We were loaded with passion
And a burning desire
For every breath, for every day of living
And this is my Thanksgiving

Like most of us, I’ve been fortunate to know and love a few very special people of the opposite sex. And I do not believe I am betraying my wedding vows by admitting that on occasion I find myself thinking of them. Why wouldn’t I? I’m not talking about pining or longing…I’m talking about sentimentality. Because during those periods in my life they mattered. They still do whether with me or not. They were important to me. They still are to the loved ones in their lives. And because they cared for me. On a planet of six billion floating through the infinite cosmos we connected…and we cared for one another. I happen to think that’s pretty damned special. So yeah…sometimes I do think about them and “what they’re going through.”

Now the trouble with you and me, my friend
Is the trouble with this nation
Too many blessings, too little appreciation
And I know that kind of notion—well, it just ain’t cool
So send me back to Sunday school
Because I’m tired of waiting for reason to arrive
It’s too long we’ve been living
These unexamined lives

I’ve got great expectations
I’ve got family and friends
I’ve got satisfying work
I’ve got a back that bends
For every breath, for every day of living
This is my Thanksgiving

The next eight lines say it all, don’t they? Do I really need to expand on them? I won’t as I think everyone can relate. Or can we? Because I don’t see a whole lot of reason out there right now. Or appreciation. Or self-examination. By the way, as for me? Guilty as charged.

While the title of one of my favorite books of all time, I do also have “great expectations.” Of myself. Of those people I know. And of this nation. Despite it all I remain an idealist. An optimist. And let me tell you that ain’t easy these days. To remain optimistic while two hundred plus children are slaughtered on the first day of school in Beslan back in 2004 was not easy. I could list them off here in bullet points, these flashpoints in time that chip away at my optimism, but I won’t. Because I do have family and friends, and satisfying work, and a back that bends. Because I look at what I do have.

Have you noticed that an angry man
Can only get so far
Until he reconciles the way he thinks things ought to be
With the way things are

Here in this fragmented world, I still believe
In learning how to give love, and how to receive it
And I would not be among those who abuse this privilege
Sometimes you get the best light from a burning bridge

You. Yes you, you narcissistic self-important bastard. Look at this picture. It was taken by Voyager while floating near the edge of our solar system four billion miles away. Not very big is it? In the grand scheme and design of the cosmos our vast planet covered by gallons and oceans of water, seven continents of mountains and valleys and forests and plains is pretty small.

And yet you think you are the center of the universe. You seem to relish treating people like dirt. But what really pisses me off about it? You do it all under the guise of some self-righteous holier-than-though rosary-in-my-pocket platitude. Hypocrisy at its finest. And yet…

And yet it does not have to be that way. You’ve a ton of talent. You’ve got people who despite the way you treat them do care a lot about you. I know life isn’t fair. I know you got dealt a bad break. We all have our crosses to bear. The difference lies with the grace and the dignity in which we bear our own. Even Billy Joel reached that conclusion in “Angry Young Man.”

I hope you find some reconciliation before your carnival ride is over. Until you do you won’t get any further than your front porch. I was like you once. For too long I was angry and pissed off that everyone else seemed to make things harder. That things ought to be a certain way. And while I do still believe in an unchanging Truth and hold to my beliefs I’ve learned to let go, too. It’ll eat you up if you don’t. I am not responsible for the world. I am, however, responsible for me. And that can make all the difference if you let it.

And I don’t mind saying that I still love it all
I wallowed in the springtime
Now I’m welcoming the fall
For every moment of joy
Every hour of fear
For every winding road that brought me here
For every breath, for every day of living
This is my Thanksgiving

Despite the hiccups, the setbacks, the discouragements…despite all of those things I do still “love it all.” I love all that this life has to offer if we but open our eyes and are willing to take the bad with the good. How else are we going to stretch or to grow?

I did “wallow in the springtime”, but I did it shortly after my springtime was over. Where we get into trouble is when we eternally look back as if those times (childhood, high school, etc.) were truly the best years of our lives. As if there is nothing ahead to look forward to. How in the hell do we know that? And why on earth would we doom ourselves to that sort of prophecy? I gave that very advice to the boys on the baseball team I coached for the final time this summer as they prepared to begin their freshman year in high school after the season. “Everyone is going to tell you that this is the best time of your lives,” I told them. “Well that’s a load of crap. Don’t you believe it. These are going to be some of the most difficult, the most challenging, and the hardest years of your lives. You will struggle. You will be discouraged. But you will get through it if you work at it.”

Right now some of you are thinking I was a jerk for telling them that. I would tell you I did them a favor. By telling them the next four years are their best years, what in the world do we give them to look forward to after it’s over? Setting up the rest of their lives as a disappointment: that to me would make me a jerk.

So now I’m in the fall. The autumn of life. Or approaching it. I’m still in the late summer I think. Around July 4th. After all I’ve still got some sparks left in me. But the point is that I do welcome the fall. I’m not afraid of it. I have a long way to go but I have learned over the past ten years that the wisdom I’m gaining from the experience of living is the richness and the wealth that I carry with me today and into the future. All the joys, the fears, and the winding roads. All of these trials and tribulations make us who we are today and who we will still yet become. We’re not done yet, you and I. Not by a longshot.

It’s exciting as hell, isn’t it?

For everyone who helped me start
And for everything that broke my heart
For every breath, for every day of living
This is my Thanksgiving

©2010 Jeff A Walker. All Rights Reserved.

My Thanksgiving written by Don Henley/Stan Lynch/Jai Winding. ©2000 Wisteria Music BMI/WB Music

11/27/2013: Updated to embed a fan video of the song on YouTube.

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