By Leslie G. Sarasin, President & CEO, FMI
This second Thanksgiving Day being observed under the lingering shadows of the pandemic offers us a unique opportunity to return to the profound emotive roots of this holiday. Honestly, the precise dates, places and styles of the diverse historic harvest celebrations that served as the fodder for our childhood reenactments involving Pilgrims and Native Americans feasting together are all a little indistinct and debated. But perhaps President John F. Kennedy captured the encompassing Thanksgiving sentiment best in his Proclamation issued on November 5, 1963, when he stated:
“Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and in Massachusetts, far from home in a lonely wilderness, set aside a time of thanksgiving. On the appointed day, they gave reverent thanks for their safety, for the health of their children, for the fertility of their fields, for the love which bound them together and for the faith which united them with their God."[
As his description indicates, the roots of Thanksgiving Day run deep in the fertile ground of adversity that is watered by gratitude and gives rise to a new hope for the future. This isn’t a denial of the hardships endured; it is recasting them in a more constructive context that allows us to move forward productively.
None of us particularly enjoys adversity. If given a choice, I suspect we would all prefer smooth sailing and no choppy waters, but a profound human truth is that we often do our best work when hard times thrust us into innovative action. Thanksgiving seeks to help us better embrace this deep understanding that sometimes what we think is detrimental when we’re in it, can actually turn out to be a good and productive thing. Thanksgiving asks us to put all things in that growth perspective by approaching them with a grateful heart.
A friend of mine once headed up a fundraiser for a nonprofit organization in Memphis. His idea was to sell special candles at the annual Elvis Presley candlelight vigil held each August at Graceland. The organization invested in the candles, received all the necessary permissions, but then on the night of the vigil, very few people bought the candles. And I mean VERY few. My friend felt awful because what he had planned as a fundraiser was instead a fund loser for an organization that sought to make every penny count. He even bought 2 boxes of candles himself to help diminish the loss. Fast forward two months and the nonprofit organization was seeking a sponsor for a low-income housing project. On a lark, my friend reached out to the same individuals at Elvis Presley Enterprises he had contacted when seeking permission about the candles. Long story short, the nonprofit received a grant from Graceland that was fifty times the amount expected from the candle sales. So what originally appeared to be a dismal failure filled with regrets turned out to be a source of success, producing a beneficial and ongoing relationship.
Thanksgiving Day asks us to examine the events in our lives and scrutinize them in a light of gratitude. This isn’t a pollyannish glossing of hardships endured, but a recognition that even the tough stuff of life like pandemics, when faced with courage and hope, provide opportunities for growth and push us into innovation.
At a time when it appears most media focus is on the cost of the Thanksgiving meal, as the providers of the elements of those feasts, let’s also help our customers remember why we gather around the table and engage in the deeper lessons offered by Thanksgiving Day. This year has given us a rich and diverse array of experiences worthy of reflection. Even the darkest of them will look different if we shine the bright light of gratitude on it.
Please know that as the Sarasin/Garmon family gathers around our Thanksgiving table this year, at the top of my gratitude list will be having the good fortune to work with an industry that not only is essential, but is also caring, innovative, and resilient. I’m grateful for all of you, and the work you do in your communities.
I hope each of you has a wonderful Thanksgiving Day celebration with your family and loved ones.