Give Thanks Like A Character

Last summer, I bought an apron. It’s pink and yellow and brown floral and it is a smock-like design. I bought it from an antique dealer in Ithaca, New York, who picked it up from an estate sale. I was wandering the antique store looking for something I could bring home that would be a symbol of the character I had been writing — a widow living in Ithaca who loved to cook. I wear the apron when I cook sometimes now and it feels almost like acting, a physical embodying of the character.

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States. I live north of the 49th parallel so we celebrated six weeks ago when the leaves were brilliant on the trees and the harvest was just gathered in but I don’t think there’s anything at all wrong in me giving thanks more than once, even if I’m having salmon for supper instead of turkey. I was thinking about writing a post that detailed things I’m thankful for — a discipline I’d like to practice far more regularly — but then I started imagining a list of things my character from Seeker of Stars was thankful for.

And that’s when it started to get interesting.

Because my own list would include the apron and the salmon, the publication of my book — the things that make me glad. But if I think about what Melchior would be thankful for, he would actually include disability and losses, being slighted, accidental discoveries, opportunities lost and found.

Why is it easier for me to imagine my character being thankful for difficulties than being thankful for them in my own life — because surely it is. I can genuinely imagine that he would be thankful for things that would make me despair. Is that what makes him a wise man and me just me?

Maybe, but I think there’s more to it than that. Part of it is that when I think of his story, I know what happens. I know how the tragedies of his life fit into the whole picture.  Some of Melchior’s blessings, the things he can be grateful for, are things he’s taken for granted, things that have been right under his nose for years. Others, though, are more severe mercies — things that could never have happened without the pain and loss. We don’t know that in our own lives. A friend recently said of raising teens that if she knew how it was going to turn out, she might be able to relax more and worry less.

The Bible says to give thanks in all circumstances (I Thessalonians 5:18). I think of a psalm that potentially could make your eyes glaze over, Psalm 136. The reason I say this is that after every line, there is a refrain, the very same refrain: His love endures forever. It’s repeated 26 times. The psalm begins, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his love endures forever.” So far, so good. And many of the verses list things like “to him alone who does great wonders, for his love endures forever.” But, you also see things like, “to him who led his people through the wilderness….who killed great kings….remembered us in our low estate…for his love endures forever.” Read between those lines and there are 40 years in the wilderness, oppression by great kings and times when people are truly down and out. The reason for being able to thank God is that in the very midst of these things, his love endures forever.

John Lennon once said, “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” The Bible offers a reason for that kind of hope, the kind that allows us to give thanks in all circumstances.

I put on my character’s apron and I see a bit more clearly through her eyes but I try on a character’s reasons for thanksgiving and I see much more clearly how to be thankful no matter what.

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