I usually write this column sitting at my desk in my study. The study is my favorite room in my house. It's crammed with things that are important to me: books, files, pictures, photographs, various objects I've acquired over the past 50 or so years.
My latest acquisition is a stoneware "Henderson Foot Warmer," a 19th century version of a hot water bottle. It reminds me of one I used to keep my feet warm when I was a graduate student in England in the early 1970s, in the days when Cambridge colleges still believed that central heating was an unnecessary luxury.
As I sit here at the computer looking over these various artifacts of my first five decades, I am struck by two thoughts I'd like to share with you during this week of national thanksgiving.
The first thought which occurs to me relates to the absolutely overwhelming advertising barrage that accompanies this time of year. Every newspaper, magazine, television screen is filled with advertisements telling us that we simply cannot live unless we purchase the newest perfume, sneakers, watch, necklace, automobile or one of the thousands of other products offered to us each week.
Each day, the pile of mail in my mailbox grows deeper, not with letters from loved ones but with multiple copies of catalogs filled with technicolor pictures and glowing descriptions of the latest consumer goodies. Is it any wonder that the day after Thanksgiving is usually the busiest shopping day of the year? How can any human being resist the seductive blandishments of these offers?
As I sit here now, however, and look at my personal artifacts, I realize that what gives them meaning is the memories that they contain, not the fact that they are elegant or expensive. There is, for instance, the piece of lava rock I picked up while puffin watching in Iceland 10 years ago. The rock itself has no commercial value. But to me, it is of immeasurable value. For when I pick up that piece of rock and close my eyes, in its textures I feel the cool breeze off the Icelandic sea and I recall the sounds and sight of literally thousands of puffins nesting high in cliffs above where Karen and I were standing.
I remember the bus we took out to the beach, segmented in the middle so that when we drove through the fords to get across streams, since there were few bridges, we would have an easy passage. And I remember Magnus, one of our drivers, who kept pointing out the important sights, like the large rock at the side of the road under which a family of trolls lived. It is objects like this simple rock that make my life rich and my study comfortable and it is for these I give thanks, not for expensive consumer goods.
The second, related, thought that occurs to me as I sit in my study is just how much I and so many of us lucky enough to live in this country and enjoy its bounty have to give thanks for this year. I remember as I sit here the thousands of men and women who have died in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families still in mourning this season. I think of all the men, women, and children who are starving in Niger and other places around the globe, of the people who lost so much in the tsunami and in storms like Katrina. I realize as I sit here how fortunate I have been in my life, fortune I've gained by accident of birth not by any merit. And I am thankful for it.
When I put these various thoughts together I come inevitably to the conclusion that this must not be simply a season of thanksgiving but also a season of giving and of sharing. Too many people in the world, in this country, in this state and in even in this community do not have the luxury to sit in quiet comfort as I do and will not enjoy the blessings I have been so fortunate to enjoy this year.
And, so, I have a suggestion. I suggest that each of us who has been fortunate this past year take this opportunity to give thanks for our good fortune not simply by feasting with family and friends, but by sharing that good fortune with those who have been less fortunate. Instead of buying one unnecessary luxury this year, let each of us who can, give something to someone who has gone without. Just one act of kindness by each of us will change the world for the better and, perhaps, as a result, more will be able to give thanks next year for their good fortune. And each of us who has helped make that possible can know the true contentment of helping another.