This Thanksgiving

This is a guest post by Joe Durepos.

I remember hearing the great Jungian psychologist and writer James Hillman say families are dangerous, they can kill you. I know he was being provocative. But I’m going to suggest that this Thanksgiving you try not to live out the unlived lives of anyone not attending your festivities. Instead, be conscious and present, be in your body, pay attention to the people around you, and how they’re doing. Avoid any unwelcome family dysfunction.

As we gather with our families and friends this year, be mindful there are always emotional dynamics at play. So be clear and gentle with yourself and others. Someone, usually the wife and mother, will be working herself ragged to make sure everyone else enjoys a perfect feast. Be sure you thank her, be sure you help her. If you see folks getting stressed, be the peacemaker not the provoker. Model genuine appreciation and love.

If you’re lucky enough to celebrate Thanksgiving in a warm and dry place with people who care about you and more food than then you can possibly eat–this means you’re one of the lucky ones–don’t feel bad about it, be thankful.

Thanksgiving can be a wonderful holiday, none of the stress of Christmas or the pressure to over-socialize at New Year’s. It’s really a brilliant opportunity to unlock the secret at the heart of all great spiritual traditions–to give thanks; to live with gratitude. What could be simpler? What could be more profound or life-changing?

Save some stuffing for me.


  1. Simon says

    Oh yes! “Friends you choose, family you are stuck with” was one of my father’s favourite quotes. It is hardly surprising given his dysfunctional family. As a result I was never involved in any big family gathering’s with the paternal side of the tree. As my mother’s family were further afield, there were fewer opportunities for that side to “kill” me either. I do recognise the theme though and I pray that everyone involved in such gatherings can live in the present moment and focus on the blessings that they are experiencing rather than some unseen slight or past misdemenour which has yet to be put to bed.

  2. says

    Amen! May this Thanksgiving be one of good things for all who will encounter family and friends who may be a challenge. I don’t know, when it comes to family and expectations, no matter how old and wise we are… things happen.

    We are but 3 this year. Our parents are gone, Mark’s sister died in 2010, and we are hardly over her passing it seems; we are still struggling with her absence. My brother and his wife, two of their three sons, along with wives and kids, live in another state. Last year a friend joined us, but this year – we three.

    I kind of find myself wishing for a little of the old dysfunction, well for the gathering anyway. Maybe the dysfunction not so much!

    Have a good one and I am grateful for this post!

  3. says

    Special holidays like Thanksgiving can be poignant and sometimes painful reminders of what once was and perhaps will never be again. Wherever you find yourself may each of you who celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow be blessed with the presence of those whom you love whether they are physically present or not.

    Happy Thanksgiving from Canadian friends!

  4. says

    I am very fortunate to have family far and wide and there can be that dysfunction and annoyance when we all have to rub up against one another but we also remember that rubbing up against is only due to God’s grace. I am now at the age where I can make the decision to not have discord with my family at all. This post speaks to where I am today. I just want to wrap loving arms of gratitude around the ones who love me easily and accept me willingly and the ones who force me to grow. They are all gifts to me.

    I was reminded the other day that a friend going through a very hard time last year joined our family at both of the dinners. He is in a better place this year and has good plans. It has always been so, whoever needs to come can come. What I truly love about my family and the family I married into is the openness of their hearts and how they always welcome more. There is always someone in need of welcoming.

  5. Jim says

    During the holidays, I’m always truly thankful for my functional family. I honestly don’t mean to brag. It’s just that this post has reminded me of how lucky I am.

  6. says

    You ARE lucky, Jim! We are headed to southern Ohio, the Heart of Dysfunction, as evidenced by the fact that we will be visiting my father and brother on separate days, though they live all of thirty minutes apart. Sigh.

    Have a great day, PFOers!

    • Carol says

      I can appreciate your situation.
      Thanksgiving is behind us but Christmas is coming.
      I may have to visit people over 3 separate occasions.
      Then I tell myself at least the people are still here.
      I will be present and caring.

      Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in the US!

  7. Emma says

    I’m going to print this out and hand it to all walking in my door tonight and tomorrow, with one added request : if disagreements arise, please wrap them in foil, put them aside and once they’re no longer palatable, throw them out with the rest of the garbage where they belong. 24 hrs usually gives insight and grants us understanding, dissolving animosities. Hopefully, I won’t have to pass out much wrapping. Happy Thanksgiving All!

  8. Camille says

    Hello Fr. Paul and Everyone who posts regularly here ~ AND hello to Joe Durepos, who I recently met at a presentation given for writers!

    Today’s guest post reminds me of the experience I had many years ago by taking someone’s advice to pay attention to ALL the loving people at the Thanksgiving table instead of centering my attention on one whom I allowed to annoy me. How freeing that was! And it keeps me in the present moment – the place where God is. That does not mean I no longer need to read advice as to how to stay there. So thank you, Joe, for now I will be open to step further in looking to be there for others in the ways that you suggest.

    As I’m preparing for the Thanksgiving holiday, it’s time to let you know that “People for Others” is a place where I find treasures of inspiration as I stop along the shore of the “Internet Sea.” I enjoy reading the posts as well as the dialog. Many of the quotes are added ‘savers’.

    I’m grateful for all of you! Happy Thanksgving!

  9. Paul says

    Joe & All,

    Not having experienced Thanksgiving growing up in Ireland, I am not familiar with the family dynamics of that particular holiday, but on Christmas I have been reduced to sad silence by some of the antics I’ve witnessed (and may well have participated in…)

    Thank you for this timely advice, but don’t keep ALL the stuffing for yourself.


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