This year marks the first time since she was born that we’ll start the holiday season without my daughter among us.
She’s studying overseas, in a country where Nov. 28 is just another Thursday, not Thanksgiving. She’s having a great experience – one that has brought her joy and expanded her understanding of the world.
I’m grateful for that.
But I still miss her.
Even though I am thrilled she is doing things that gratify her in a place she has come to love, a part of me also wishes she were home with the rest of her family.
Such is the complicated nature of thanksgiving.
This is the season in which we are counseled to count our blessings. The instruction is almost a platitude, a directive to do something simple, clear and pain-free.
But blessings aren’t simple, clear and pain-free.
When I think about the times in my life in which I learned the most — grew the most — those times are almost always moments of hurt, even anguish. Often, I cannot even recollect them without wincing.
But I am grateful for the lessons — generally, important ones about compassion and humility — those times taught me. I am thankful for the way they forged my character, such as it is.
And, in retrospect, I consider them blessings.
Does that mean, though, that I enjoyed those moments?
Would I want to relive them?
Not a chance.
One of the difficult things about growing older is that aging deepens one’s understanding of mortality. Not only do I get my own personal reminders that I’m no longer in the springtime of my life with every sore joint, aching muscle or doctor’s visit, but saying farewells to people I have known, people I have cared about, people I have loved, has become a regular part of my existence.
When I was a young man, attending a funeral or sending a condolence card was rare for me. No longer.
That, though, is the nature of things.
No matter who we are in life, we all find our way into the obituaries eventually.
When we lose someone, it is natural — healthy, even — to mourn.
But, in this season of reflection, it’s also important — healthy, even — to remember that the same currents of life that separate us in death also brought us together in life. Even in a time of loss, it is good to recall the things that bring us together, the moments our paths cross or run together, the love, friendship or fellowship that we share.
It is those moments that sustain us, that make our lives what they are.
The temptation — the cliché — is to think of gratitude as an unalloyed pleasure.
But it isn’t.
Gratitude is deeper, richer and more varied than that. It is large enough to encompass sorrow and include regret. It is and must be as big as life itself.
I’ve lost people in these past seasons who have meant a great deal to me and I will continue to mourn their passing. But my gratitude that they were part of my life and I was part of theirs is and always will be profound.
I’ll think, often with chagrin, this season about the hard moments that tormented me as I lived them and taught me afterward, but I’ll be thankful for the teaching, nonetheless.
And I will continue to feel my daughter’s absence until I see her next in a few weeks. But I’ll be grateful both that I am father to two children who face life with brave and open hearts and that I miss them more than I can say when they venture out to make their ways in this strange and challenging world.
Perhaps this is why the metaphor for this season is one of feasting, of experiencing tasting experiences of many varieties.
Blessings are the same. Some are sweet. Some are sad. Some are hard. Some are gentle.
But all are part of life. Part of what makes us.
And, sweet or sad, hard or gentle, they all offer reasons to be grateful.
Happy holidays to you and yours.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.