Gratitude, thanksgiving and respect
Friday, Nov. 15, 2013

Gratitude, thanksgiving and respect

This is what I want for Christmas, and for Hanukkah, too. And for any other festival Americans are marking this winter.

I want gratitude. Simple and sweet. Gratitude for a world beautiful and wondrous, for people and friends and the stuff of real life. Stuff like unselfish devotion. Stuff like love.

We could start by giving thanks. Thanksgiving is, after all, just around the corner.

I’d like us to try to avoid the sniping around how we greet each other.

I grew up believing that wishing someone “happy holidays” was a loving sign of respect and joy. The whole world is not my mirror image. To wish someone a happy holiday demonstrated that we could all celebrate together, even if we celebrated differently.

In fact, maybe we need all three things this year. What were they again? Gratitude. Thanksgiving. Respect.

I am tired of the wealth of all those other things. Selfishness. Intolerance. Aggression.

I don’t like the way those who believe in ethical action but do not believe in a supreme being get demonized.

I don’t like the way quantity is interpreted as quality (so many people of this type means they must be superior to people of other types).

I don’t like the way we assume that our own ideas are the only ideas worth having.

Last weekend, on the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, I went to visit an older couple.

(For those of you who may not know, the words “crystal” and “night” joined together are the name for a pogrom against the Jews of Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, in which dedicated Nazis destroyed more than 250 synagogues and countless stores and homes.)

(Thirty thousand German Jewish men were dragged off to the death camp at Dachau. The pogrom marked the beginning of the end of Jewish life in Germany. It was, in a way, a bell tolling in the Nazis’ death knell for millions of Jews.)

The couple are an interfaith couple. He is Christian; she is Jewish. They have had children together. They have selflessly taken care of elders for more than two decades.

Between cancer, other illnesses and a terrible accident caused by someone engaged in distracted driving (on the phone), her body is utterly broken. It is so broken that she can hardly stand.

She is losing feeling in increments; soon she will be forced to live in adult diapers.

Her husband called me about a week ago. His wife needed a rabbi, he said. They had had visitors from an area church who couldn’t stop haranguing his wife, he said.

Every visit was an attack on her and her belief, he told me. Every visit was an open attempt to convert her.

Both husband and wife had grown up so poor that their stories would break your heart. Abandonment, violence, living in a cold you remember six decades later.

Both had managed to find one another and support one another. Both were facing the knowledge that their time together was limited.

And both had hoped simply to be honored for who they were. Respected. Maybe even cared for, just a little.

“I feel so isolated,” she told me. “I have a star of David. But I’m afraid to wear it.”

We spent hours in conversation and prayer. We talked about the God all three of us believe in.

“We’re all God’s children,” he said.

Every morning, this woman, who is in constant pain, wakes up and thanks God for another day. She thanks God for her devoted husband. She thanks God for her meal. She is grateful.

We could take a lesson from her and her husband. We could be grateful. Thankful. Respectful.

Barbara Thiede is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Barbara? Email her at

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