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  • Writer's pictureDavid Horst

Grief and gratitude

Thanksgiving in our houses of worship, in our homes, and in our nation is a time of joy and humility: We are grateful for all the blessings we have received and we are humbled to have many rich blessings. Yet this year we hold much sorrow and overwhelming grief: The wars in Ukraine and Israel and Gaza are most heavy on our hearts and touch directly on American citizens and our nation’s global interests, but we must acknowledge with deep sadness all of the 110 armed conflicts in the world today: The Geneva Academy in Switzerland reports more than 45 armed conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, more than 35 in Africa, 21 in Asia, seven in Europe, and six in Latin America. The majority are non-international armed conflicts; but any way you count them, these numbers are deeply disturbing and gut-wrenching.

Here in America, daily gun violence and deaths, mass shootings, and the rise of political violence haunt us and leave us despairing. Some fear another Civil War because of the growth of authoritarianism and the neofascist, white nationalist movement.

Many have suffered deaths and loss of loved ones and friends this past year or in recent years. We acknowledge the pain. We are with each other in our sorrow. We grieve as one.

Grief is present with us this Thanksgiving as it was when Abraham Lincoln declared days of Thanksgiving in August and October 1863 during the horror of the Civil War. With death and dying happening far away and close to home today, a sense of loss is never far from our thoughts. In this time of gratitude and abundance and quiet joy, grief and loss are with us all.

We ask ourselves: Is it possible to give thanks in a time of violence and war? Is giving thanks acceptable? Is it proper?

I say that gratitude is not only possible, acceptable, and proper but absolutely necessary in this time of grief and loss around the world, here at home in America, and within our families and circles of friends.

To give thanks, to count our blessings, to share in community, to gather around the table, to share the abundance of food and love, does not mock our grief or even lessen our grief but honors it. When we express our gratitude we also acknowledge the preciousness of life. When we pray our Thanksgiving prayers, we also acknowledge that with blessings come losses for us and so many in our community, nation, and world.

We grieve because we love. We love our parents, our spouses and partners, our children and extended families, and our neighbors. Our love extends to our sister and brother Americans, and our neighbors in the Middle East, North Africa, Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America.

Grieving those we love in death is not so different than loving those we love in life. Our faith calls us to love all our neighbors so we love those deaths of loved ones unknown as well.

If this is true, if love is present both in death and in life, if love is universal among all humankind, then gratitude is necessary at this time of Thanksgiving as it is every day, season after season, all year round, for a lifetime, for all generations. Grief and gratitude speak to deeper love and to the fullness of life. In our grief, we know love.

Photo: Holmberg Orchards, Gales Ferry, Connecticut

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