"God only knows that we can do,
No more or less than he'll allow.
Well God only knows that we mean well
And God knows that we just don't know how."
Thursday was Thanksgiving, a holiday that has always been special to me.
I suppose that is because I actually was born on Thanksgiving. When one is born on a holiday, I guess that holiday always holds a unique significance.
(On at least one occasion, an old friend of mine who died a few months ago was asked her favorite number. She said her favorite number was 16, the number of her birth date.
(She said it is hard not to like the number of the day you were born, and I guess that's true. I never really thought of it that way before.
(Using similar logic, I guess, it's hard not to feel partial to a holiday on which one is born. And, while I have never discussed this with my brother, my guess is that he feels the same way. He was born the day after New Year's Day.)
Well, my situation is unusual, I suppose. It wasn't Thanksgiving where I was born. You see, my parents were Methodist missionaries in Africa at the time of my birth. They were always American citizens, though, and back in America, my grandparents were observing the Thanksgiving holiday, probably with their friends.
I don't know if my parents had planned to observe the holiday with their American friends (I don't even know if traditional Thanksgiving foods were available at that time in that part of the world). I don't think I was due for another two or three weeks so it's possible that they had plans, but, if they did, I disrupted them. Clearly, my mother was in the hospital that day, and I guess my father was sitting in the waiting room.
No one ever told me the story of how that day unfolded, but I think it is safe to assume that neither of my parents ate any turkey and stuffing that Thanksgiving.
In spite of the fact that I was born on Thanksgiving, I've always had mixed feelings about it. I like the concept of being grateful for what you have, but that begs the question of "Grateful to whom? Grateful to what?"
I mean, does the very act of setting aside a day to express gratitude for what you have necessarily imply faith in a higher power?
For some, I suppose the answer is "yes" — albeit an indirect confirmation. As Meister Eckhart, a theologian from the Middle Ages, said, "If the only prayer we ever said was 'Thank you,' that would be sufficient."
For such people, the very act of being thankful is an acknowledgment of faith.
But doesn't that suggest that you are being rewarded for doing the things you are expected to do? And, if that is true, then the whole God–man relationship, from early times to the present day, is founded in a kind of performance–based agreement, kind of like the incentive bonuses that some pro athletes have written into their contracts.
It's the kind of thing I can equate to my own life.
As a child, I was always eager to please my elders so I tried to do the things they wanted me to do. I took certain classes because they were recommended to me. I participated in certain activities because they were recommended to me.
I went to college and graduate school for much the same reason, I suppose. There was more to it, of course, but it definitely played a role. When I look back on it now, I wonder if I did so with certain expectations of the outcome, that each of the "right" things that I did made the ultimate payoff more secure.
I guess I'm not so different from most people, even if I was born on Thanksgiving. I'm a seeker, a questioner, a doubter, a skeptic. That may be part of the reason I gravitated to journalism.
Then, again, it was hard not to be a seeker, a questioner, a doubter, a skeptic if you grew up when I did. It always seemed like those who were in charge were lying to the rest of us — Lyndon Johnson lied about Vietnam, Richard Nixon lied about Watergate and so on.
It was hard to know who or what to believe so I turned to my elders. I put my trust in them, and they told me to trust God.
I was brought up to believe in God, to believe in Jesus, to believe the Bible. But, in my experience, most of the people who were brought up that way went through their moments of doubt and pain as well.
Some of the people I knew when I was growing up lost their faith along the way. I still want to believe the things I was told when I was young are true. But many of the things I have seen contradict that, especially lately.
This isn't a new crisis for me. It wasn't brought on by Phyllis' death. Phyllis' death merely contributed to a pre–existing condition. She always seemed to understand things I don't understand.
Phyllis never lost her faith in God, and she suffered in her last years, which came far too early. There are many things about that experience that I don't understand. What was the purpose behind it?
When I was a child, I was told there was a purpose behind everything, a reason for every life. But I struggle when I look for the purpose.
Several friends have died this year. I expect that, of course. But the last few years have been brutal — this year in particular. Before Phyllis died, two of my friends killed themselves, and others (of varying ages) died of other causes.
And I have been without full–time employment for more than two years. I am doing some part–time teaching at the local community college, and I guess I am thankful for that this Thanksgiving. But it doesn't pay much.
There is still much uncertainty, a lot more than I ever dreamed there would be back when I thought I was doing all the right things to make my future a bright one.
I'm probably not the only one who has thought that, if there is a God and he really does have a master plan, this would be a good time for him to let me in on it — or at least let me in on enough of it to know things are moving in the right direction.
Things have been a bit chaotic for me in recent years.