by Laura Sillerman | bio

“You cut the turkey?”

This refrain from Barry Levinson’s brilliant film, “Avalon,” made its way to our Thanksgiving dinner more than once in the 90s. When the brother who is late complains that the others have begun, he sums up the whole of so many families’ dynamics — the anticipation of disappointment, the dread of resentment, the constancy of character and the lack thereof. Worse still, he spoke of self-righteousness and self-involvement.

There was nothing like, “You cut the turkey?” at our table this year, and in trying to understand why, I realized a transformation that applies to more than me and our guests: We’ve been working on gratitude.

This year, our table included all or parts of seven families. Three of those families can be said to have had an easy year since we were together last November. The others have had terrible sadness, financial reversal, loss of job or business, worrisome illness, ongoing struggle. Yet we sat, and when the time came to go around the table and say what we were grateful for, the statements were real and hopeful — and the thanks were, too.

We’ve been working on gratitude. I really do think complaint is in decline. Maybe it’s because we, the heads of the families, are getting older and wiser. Maybe it’s because people are fighting a woebegone war on our behalf, and we are nearly helpless to help them. Maybe it’s because we are over the numbness of 9/11, and what has sunk in is the reality that we dodged a flaming bullet and we damned well better do a better job of living.

Can it be that America is getting kinder?

It can.

The economy is teetering a bit. Many of the mighty have come to ignominious career ends this year. The media is talking about its sickening celebrity obsessions nearly as much as it is celebrity-obsessed. The Nobel Peace Prize went to a loser.

At my Thanksgiving table, it felt more about who we were to each other than who we were trying to be outside. We had a real world beater at the table, a woman who leads a high-profile internationally known organization. There wasn’t the predictable flutter or deference around her. Instead there was embrace — a sharing of the spirit of the holiday she declared to be her favorite.

It was noticeable, the way people were leading with their hearts, and I’m betting it wasn’t confined to our little corner of the stuffing-and-gravy world.

What would we do if this caught on? What if there is a slight shifting of the tides away from being hot shots in some arena to being warm beings in the arena that matters most: the world of family and friends?

What if we decide to become that change: to take some little glimmer of caring and make it a second sun of compassion in our small worlds — and maybe the nation at large? What if we can remember that we are working on gratitude right though the grueling days of buying and wrapping ahead of us?

What if we did what we say we want — get our acts together and simplify?

Maybe we should lead with one simple message for the rest of the year. We’re all very lucky. We are free to write and read whatever we want. We are free to make the changes, personal and ultimately political, we need. We are free to help others who are less fortunate through a million means.

We are free.

We are free to live out the last days of this weighted and weighty year lighter, grateful and peaceful. We can take what we are thankful for and put it in front of what we are carrying. It will make the baggage easier to manage.

I’m thankful for Women’s Voices for Change — for a place where we get together and tell each other how we are struggling to do a better job of living gracefully and purposefully. If we can help each other to live more lovingly, we should try. It’s where real change resides, and it seems more possible than ever before.

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  • P. Young December 5, 2007 at 2:10 am

    Laura, you reminded us that living a life of gratitude doesn’t just happen — it is a choice! You have started the ripple and we need to “pay it forward” so others will emulate and embrace it as well. It can happen one person at a time! Thank you.

  • StellaMiller November 28, 2007 at 8:52 am

    Beautiful piece, Laura. I sent it to our daughters and my girlfriends.

  • Elizabeth Hemmerdinger November 27, 2007 at 12:13 am

    Well, Laura, this sure lightened my load. As always, your thoughts are uplifting in surprising ways that always make me feel like you see a better person in my skin than I ever imagined. And for that I am profoundly grateful. Elizabeth H