Giving Thanks

By Joanie Butman


I’m writing this early in the week because by Wednesday I will be totally immersed in my own Modern Family episode. Our annual Thanksgiving gathering has the only ingredient required for a good sitcom: lots of family. You just need to sit back and let it write itself. Personally, over the course of the event I will exhibit moments of Claire’s high-strung personality, more than my share of Cam’s flamboyant flair for the dramatic, and a large dose of Gloria’s boisterous volatility minus the big boobs. And Bob will be my Phil, steadfast amidst a sea of relatives doing whatever is needed to maintain the little sanity I had in the first place. His secret is mixing up large batches of his famous Manhattans. My supporting cast is too long to list, but they all assume their roles each year with gusto.

Our generation may consider ourselves “modern” but when it comes to family dynamics, have we really evolved all that much? Adam and Eve were disobedient, Cane and Abel defined sibling rivalry, Joseph and his brothers illustrated the dangers of nepotism, Martha complained her sister wasn’t helping with chores; and complicated, combined families were de rigueur—men had multiple wives with hoards of kids. How much more complicated can you get?

The appeal of Modern Family is that most of us can relate to the characters and situations on some level. More importantly, it illustrates that at the end of the day despite all their foibles, this quirky family loves each other and faces life together with laughter, tears and plenty of drama. Being part of a family like that is a beautiful thing and something for which I am extremely grateful. I’ve been doubly blessed to be born into a loving family and then to marry into another. However, not everyone is blessed with a caring family, so I choose to put this privilege at the top of a lengthy list of things I am thankful for not only on Thanksgiving but everyday.

Like any good sitcom, during our Thanksgiving marathon there is usually one main drama with multiple subplots unfolding depending on which room you’re in. Last year we began the day when my niece’s friend accidentally broke off the shower handle preventing her from turning the water off. My husband, the water nazi, was pacing downstairs wondering what she was doing in the shower for 30 minutes. Apparently, she was embarassed to come tell us. We then discovered that the genius who installed the shower didn’t include a shut-off valve, which meant we had to disconnect the water to that entire side of the house (including the kitchen). No kitchen with 30 guests on Thanksgiving morning is not a good thing. Luckily, we have an engineer in the family who managed to dismantle the faucet and manually set the valve to the off position so we could use the water – a minor setback in our history of holiday calamities.

Then we discovered a rabid raccoon in the garage where the Thanksgiving dinner was temporarily being housed – laid out smorgasbord style for any wildlife lucky enough to discover that someone left the door open. Picture this: people of all ages grabbing a variety of weapons (lacrosse sticks, fishing poles, tennis rackets, brooms, shovels) screaming and scattering for safety while trying to coax the frightened animal back into the wild. Then, cheering in victory as if we had just defeated marauding invaders, we watched Rocky Raccoon stagger down the driveway as if he had just imbibed one of Bob’s legendary libations.

Regardless of the drama and confusion, I love my home filled with friends and family (I also love the quiet when they leave.) During this crazy weekend, I am overwhelmed with gratitude basking in our mutual love and genuine appreciation for each other and how fortunate we are to be together. Even so, there is never a lack of sitcom material from which to draw. I can’t wait to see what this year brings.

One last note, did you ever notice how thanks and giving are inextricably connected? It’s because when you have a thankful heart, your natural instinct is giving. I was discussing this last week with some friends, and we all agreed that paying it forward is the purest way to express gratitude. The consensus was that an anonymous act of kindness (big or small) probably blesses the giver more than the recipient, as there is no greater joy than doing something for another without expecting anything in return – including recognition or thanks. That experience is the definition of living an abundant life. It is what we were made for because when you share your own abundance, your blessings grow exponentially.

My Thanksgiving wish is that you savor the blessings of being on both sides of that equation long after the turkey is gone. Happy Thanksgiving.