Monday, November 23, 2009

Earnest About Thanksgiving

Some of you have asked about my speach for the Chamber Thanksgiving Luncheon: here's a rough draft that was refined as I delivered it... Ask Greg for details... Enjoy! J.S.

I want to say how deeply honored I am that the Chamber of Commerce asked me to offer the keynote address. I think this is my third Thanksgiving Luncheon and each of the addresses have been very moving and thought provoking. I think that they have set the bar pretty high when it comes to the quality that I believe you’re looking for.

That said, when Amy Shaw asked me if I would do this, I told her that my first Thanksgiving luncheon was when Eliot Spitzer’s wife Silda came to speak in 2007. It seemed that right after she was here all of her husband’s infidelities came out.

When Amy asked, I had to make sure that I didn’t have anything buried in my closet that would come out to bite me. So I talked it over with my wife and she assured me that we didn’t have anything too embarrassing. She said there was that time at a Seder meal when I set my jacket on fire, but that was just clumsiness and just a little embarrassment. So from her perspective I was good to go.

But as I’ve been thinking about it, there is something that I want to confess. And being as I have approximately 500 some odd of you I thought it might be a good idea to come clean here. Just get it over and done with in one fall swoop. Yes, it’s kind of embarrassing, but don’t be too hard on me.

It pains me to say it, but yes, I do really enjoy the occasional chick flick.

It seems that after 20 years of marriage my wife has worn off on me and I do now succumb to watching movies that do not involve blowing things up, kick boxing, underwater espionage and martial arts. I do enjoy those movies mind you. But there’s something sentimental in me that just loves the story line of a good love story.

Sleepless in Seatle. You’ve Got Mail. Philadelphia Story. Benny and June. When Harry met Sally. Yes, I’ve seen those and more. One of my wife’s favorite movies is “Return to Me” starring David Duchovny and Minnie Driver. Those of you that have seen that movie know that the main character’s wife Elizabeth dies and her heart is used to save someone else’s life. The person who is the recipient of the heart transplant named Grace falls madly in love with the husband of the person who gave the heart. One of my favorite lines comes at the point where the whole story comes together and David Duchovny says to his soon to be father in law, “I will always miss Elizabeth, but my heart aches for Grace.”

And that is the moment where I start to bawl like a little baby. I guess deep down inside I’m just a sentimental ball of mush and I have been getting much more so as I get older.

So it really shouldn’t surprise you to learn that one of my favorite movies is “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Those of you who are literary buffs know that this movie is an adaptation of a book by Jane Austen that uses the same title.

Here we find a young man from the country who changes his name to Ernest every time he goes into the city as a way of throwing people off his trail. He is able to do or be anything when he is in the city even those things that would ruin his reputation, and then go back to the country and still have his good name protected. The problem is that he falls in love with a woman who thinks that he is Ernest, when in reality he has another name and he has to convince her that while he is not really Ernest – his feelings toward her are indeed earnest.

Earnest after all means sincere, deep and lacking in frivolity. How do you trust a man who says that he is Ernest when he is really not earnest? The movie becomes rather funny and the irony is indeed thick.

So what does this all have to do with Thanksgiving? Well next week many of us will wake up early to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. We will cook a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. We will bow our heads and give thanks for the good things that we have in our lives. And maybe we will sit down and watch the obligatory football game – the only time when we can be assured that the Lions will be on television and I get to root for them.

But this scenario begs the questions, “Are we truly earnest in our feelings of thankfulness or is this just a put on?” Like Ernest who goes out into the city to sow his wild oats, do we just come to this holiday and out of obligation to some expectation set by someone at some time in the distant past, do we end up bowing our heads and putting on an aura of thankfulness hoping that no one will scratch the surface and find out how truly unthankful we are?

Look around you, the cynic might say, why do we give thanks when unemployment is at an all time high. Manufacturing jobs are hit especially hard. People are working two and in some cases three jobs just to make ends meet. Folks are going through hard times and you want us to be earnestly thankful? Come on, get a grip – look at your own work. Some are indicating that charities are being hit especially hard in this economic climate.

Donations to CHOW are lower than they’ve been in years, but demands are up by over 24% over last year. Our Faith In Action Volunteers are meeting increased demand for volunteers to help elderly and disabled people live independently in their own homes with decreased giving and volunteers. Charities are hit with the real possibility of cutting staff and trying to meet needs that increase as families come under economic stress and uncertainty. Look what have we to be thankful for?

Greg Anderson, in Living Life on Purpose tells a story about a man whose wife had left him. He was completely depressed. He had lost faith in himself, in other people, in God--he found no joy in living. One rainy morning this man went to a small neighborhood restaurant for breakfast. Although several people were at the diner, no one was speaking to anyone else. Each one seemed to have his own unhappiness to contend with and the atmosphere was very melancholy. Our miserable friend was hunched over the counter, stirring his coffee with a spoon.In one of the small booths along the window was a young mother with a little girl. They had just been served their food when the little girl broke the sad silence by almost shouting, "Momma, why don't we say our prayers here?" The waitress who had just served their breakfast turned around and said, "Sure, honey, we pray here. Will you say the prayer for us?" And she turned and looked at the rest of the people in the restaurant and said, "Bow your heads." Surprisingly, one by one, the heads went down. The little girl then bowed her head, folded her hands, and said, "God is great, God is good, and we thank him for our food. Amen."That prayer changed the entire atmosphere. People began to talk with one another. The waitress said, "We should do that every morning.""All of a sudden," the man said, "my whole frame of mind started to improve. From that little girl's example, I started to thank God for all that I did have and stop majoring in all that I didn't have. I started to be grateful."

So no matter where you are in life, I would encourage you to at least entertain the thought that you can be earnestly thankful and by giving thanks we can encourage each other to be better people in the process. Maybe together, as we sit in this place, we can begin to create an atmosphere of thanksgiving that spills out into our community.

And really we have a lot to be thankful for. I was thinking about how lucky we are to have three mayoral candidates who love Binghamton so much that they would want to give of themselves to serve the public good. One of them is indeed happier of the outcome of the election than the others, but all three should be proud of the race they ran and the public conversations that they started.

Good place to raise a family – fifteen minutes from anywhere in Broome County…. Great schools…

We have Speedie Fest that benefits many local charities and draws people in from all over the country to find quality entertainment. First Night, First Friday, Celebrate the Southern Tier, WSKG – these are all good things that we have in our community that add so much to our life together.

And there are the social service providers who help care for people. Catholic Charities. Crime Victims Assistance Center. CHOW. Food Bank of the Southern-tier. First call for Help run by our very own and active United Way. Mental Health Association of the Southern Tier and so many more. These help us care for our community and help create an atmosphere of nurture and support.

And who can forget the businesses like Security Mutual that sponsors the Mud Cat Grant Celebrity Golf Tournament that donates thousands of dollars to the Urban League, CHOW and Catholic Charities. Or Weis Markets that helps with the Round Up Program that supplies fresh perishable items to the hungry in our area. Or Wegman’s work with the Food Bank. Or how the radio stations in the area truly give back by hosting food drives or raising good causes for us to help with. No, we are truly blessed.

In my own organization along with the First Ward Action Council Inc., we were able this past year with the assistance of Home Depot, Bellknap Lumber, Follands lumber, Christ the King Lutheran, the Community Foundation, Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs, and thirteen Church and Community Youth Groups to build thirteen wheelchair ramps for elderly and disabled people trying to live in their own homes. We used over 111 youth and 70 mentors to get the job done. And it was really a community partnership involving even the BLI class from last year.

Yes, we have a lot to be thankful for.

But it’s not just in the large events when we come together to help reduce the plight of the hungry or the homeless or raise money for great causes. It’s also in how we treat each other when we’re not at our best. When we’ve been frazzled and beat down and don’t look the part of what we once did. It’s at that point when you prove just how earnestly thankful you are.

You’re standing in the checkout line being served by a surly looking teenager who would rather be in several different places and in spite of all the reasons that you have to return his attitude in kind, you instead remember that it could very well be your own surly teenager who is serving you and you treat them with kindness and generosity. And you prove yet again what it means to be earnestly thankful.

When you’re late for a meeting across town caught behind an obviously confused and overly cautious elderly person. Instead of getting bent out of shape quietly seething or even beeping loudly on your horn scaring the living daylights out of them, you instead treat them with respect and courtesy remembering that your own parents are not far behind them and you really hope that someone else will treat them with respect and care. When you do that you are earnestly thankful.

When you’re trying to get to the bottom of what is happening with a bill that you thought you had paid, but you just got an overdue notice. And you get on the phone with the company to complain. Instead of taking it out on the poor person on the other end of the phone, you realize that they are as powerless over this system as you are and you treat them civilly with courtesy and respect, then you are being earnestly thankful.
Yes, friends, it is easy enough for us to be thankful when we’re in good times, celebrating the fruits of a good harvest, but its entirely different when we’re not at our best. Today I invite you to be thankful – and not just be moderately so. Give in to it, let it pull you in and be earnestly thankful. And together as we go to our various ways, let’s spread the message to everyone we meet and invite them to a live of generosity and care.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice! Puts a lot of things in perspective.

    I loved the movie "Return to Me". Bonnie Hunt was a co-writer of the movie and I think she is hilarious. Also, my father received a heart transplant sometime around that time so it was especially meaningful.


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