Thanksgiving DayT. SHER SINGH
Saturday, October 6, 2012
On Monday, we in Canada will celebrate Thanksgiving Day.
The tradition originates from age-old autumnal practices of the First Nations of this beautiful land to offer thanks for the fall harvest. One such tradition, for example, honours the "three sisters" - beans, corn and squash.
More recently: in 1578, Martin Frobisher was seeking the northern passage to the Orient - to spread the word of God, and plunder the riches of the East, I suppose - and found himself in the area now known as Newfoundland and Labrador. He is reputed to have celebrated a formal thanksgiving for his safe arrival on terra firma.
So, regardless of the reason - they are all good ones - the whole nation takes a day off to express its gratitude for the bounties we enjoy. It's mostly a family affair; loved ones gather for a feast.
Traditional fare invariably involves turkey. With stuffing, of course. And mashed potatoes, flooded in gravy. Cranberry sauce is a must. So are sweet potatoes, corn, turnips, yams ... and, to top it all off, pumpkin pie!
But the arrival of new blood and high energy through a rich mix of new Canadians from around the world in the last four decades has freed us from staid and tired customs. Now, we give thanks for nature's cornucopia of blessings in a multiplicity of ways ... and cuisines.
Thus, the poor turkey gets a respite in our household, rescued by Punjabi fare.
Celebrating Thanksgiving comes naturally to those in our family who were born here. The rest of us have struggled with the idea through the early years. "Why do we need to set aside a single day or a weekend to thank God for the blessings year round?" has been the most common refrain.
But then, why do we have gurpurabs or birthdays or anniversaries? They aren't meant to replace the celebration or the introspection we need to do every day of our lives; they merely highlight the importance of it all.
For me, I must confess, the debate has been an easy one.
Out of the blue, one Thanksgiving Day, more than three decades ago, I was given the best of reasons to celebrate it: Gehna, my daughter, was born on October 8, 1978!
What more can I say?
It has given one more reason, and a convincing one at that, to stop in our tracks and be cognizant of all the wonderful gifts we receive ... unasked, undeserved, unlimited!
And then, as the years have gone by, more reasons to celebrate have been added to the list.
Twenty years ago, my father fell ill, was diagnosed with cancer, and was given six months more to live. When the fateful day arrived, he passed away in peace one night at 11.30, holding my mother's hands and hearing her recite the evening paatth.
The whole family converged within a few hours. Later that morning, as we sat around the dining table reminiscing, someone leaned over to another and whispered, "It's Gehna's birthday today!"
We quietly hugged and kissed her a happy birthday when my mother was out of earshot. Gehna's eyes silently acknowledged that she understood.
Later that afternoon, around 3.00, I saw my mother send one of my sisters out on an errand. When she returned an hour later, she brought a parcel with her and placed in the centre of the table.
It was a birthday cake.
Our mom stood over us and, noticing our discomfort, chided us: "Life carries on. It must carry on. Your father would've wanted this. And, in celebrating Gehna's birthday, we celebrate his life!"
We sat there, stunned by her generosity: no one had lost as much as she had that night.
But we also knew in our heart of hearts that she was right.
Ever since, there's been so much more meaning to the day. What a gift! I get to celebrate the gifts of the past and the blessings of the future, all on the same day.
Not long thereafter, Gehna turned sixteen. We flew to New York to commemorate this special juncture and spent four eventful days in the high-octane environs of the Big Apple.
Heading home, our plane descended into Toronto in the late hours of Thanksgiving Day. As its wheels squealed and jolted onto the runaway, we heaved a sigh of relief for a holiday well concluded.
And then ... then, all hell broke loose!
The wheels of the plane burst into flames; the pilot seemed to lose control of the plane as it taxied off the runaway into the pitch darkness of the fields. The lights went out, the oxygen masks dangled before our eyes. We smelt something burning as we listened to the instructions over the speakers in silence.
The rest happened in rapid sequence. No one said a word, as we discarded our footwear and quickly made our way to the exits. As soon as we felt the blast of cold hit our faces, hands reached out from the darkness, grabbed us and flung us into the air. We slid down the chutes and landed on the grass below.
All's well that ends well. It ended well. There were a few injuries, but the two of us were fine; we reunited in the fields, standing shivering in our socks.
Ever since, we have had yet another reason to celebrate Thanksgiving Day. We never fail to remember to be grateful for all the adventures and the challenges that life brings for us. Without them, it would be dull and static. With them, we grow and improve.
I recall when I was sixteen; I had just met the first big challenge of my young life. My world had been turned upside down by a series of events, none of my making, but nevertheless going to the heart of my existence. Not long into the pain of it all, my father sat down beside me at the end of the first day. I braced myself for a brisk tearing down: after all, I'd left myself exposed.
He warned me that I wouldn't understand, but that I should nevertheless listen to what he had to say: it's a gift, he said, this time of intense turmoil so early in your life. You survive this one, son, and you'll be ready for life in its full glory. More of these trials will come, but if you learn from this that they also go, you'll be ready to face anything and everything that life brings ... and there'll be many an occasion, believe me!
It's true, I didn't understand him then. But years later, it came back to me and has held me in good stead ever since.
I have learnt to welcome both the good and the bad ... though, the latter is indeed tougher to swallow. I have learnt that one follows the other like night does day, and day does night. I have learnt that we have not been made privy to the "why" of it all.
We're told: dukh daaru, sukh rog bhayaa ... Where comfort becomes the disease, sorrow becomes the cure!
I have learnt that we must become adept at embracing both the good and the bad with grace and aplomb. While it is easy to understand the good ... we see ourselves as deserving it fully ... it is a challenge to accept the bad, because we do not understand the good in it. Sometimes it takes time. Often, it needs distance ... and wisdom, which in itself is elusive.
I remind myself that chlorine is poison for us; yet, we take doses of it in our water everyday, because it saves us from disease.
We grapple with pox ... by actually injecting a dose of it voluntarily into our own body. And, that keeps us free of the very same disease!
On the other hand, I don't understand airwaves and microwaves. Fiber optics or the computer chip. The combustion engine or the x-ray. And yet, I enjoy their benefits.
I don't understand the seemingly negative that comes my way either. But I've found that if I flow with it, it works as well for me as everything else. I just need to give it time.
And therefore, on this Thanksgiving Day, I celebrate all the blessings that we receive each day of our lives: the good and the "bad", the pain and the pleasure, good and evil, honour and dishonour, loved and loving ones as well as detractors, the gifts we understand and can fathom, and the gifts we don't ...
This Thanksgiving Day, as always, I have so much to be thankful for!
Re-published on October 6, 2012.
Conversation about this article
1: D.J.Singh (U.S.A.), October 06, 2007, 8:00 PM.
Visualize Guru Arjan Dev Ji sitting on the fire and praying, "Tera keeya meetha laagay" ... "Sweet is Thy Will!" Imagine Jesus Christ on the cross praying, "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do"! Then, thank God for each and every beautiful moment of our existence.
2: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), October 06, 2007, 8:02 PM.
Excellent commentary on the complexities, the pain and pleasure, the slings and arrows, as well as the bounties of life. Enjoy and remain thankful.
3: Pritam Singh Grewal (Canada), October 07, 2007, 3:56 AM.
Sikhi guides us ever to live a life of thankfulness and equanimity as detailed in the sixth Ashtpadi of Sukhmani Sahib: "Jeh prasad chhattih amrit khahe....." ... "Through Grace, we partake in umpteen delights!" [GGS, M5, 269:14].
4: Tejwant (U.S.A.), October 07, 2007, 4:00 PM.
Thanks to the teachings of Guru Nanak, stumbling blocks morph into stepping stones, which makes us celebrate the WOW! factor of what surrounds us with every breath we take. Therefore, for a Sikh, Thanksgiving Day is everyday we can breed goodness within, using Gurbani as a catalyst, no matter how many odds are stacked up against us.
5: Gurbir Singh Purba (Canada), October 29, 2007, 2:51 AM.
T Sher Singh, Sat Sri Akal. I am from Mississauga and I know you from the local Toronto scene. I had no idea that you wrote so well. This article touched me in so many ways that it is hard for me to explain. I knew your father briefly as I lived in the Don Mills area and met him while casually walking around our condominium buildings a couple of times in 1989. He mentioned your name to me and told me that you were his son. I never knew of his passing and this article gave me the best description of his passing. I am sorry for your loss. Gehna is very fortunate to be part of such a pious family. May Waheguru Bless you and your family. Excellent article.
6: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), October 06, 2012, 1:41 PM.
I thought I had read this before ... and indeed, I see it has been republished. The Thanksgiving Day celebration remains as fresh as the morning dew. "din bhee gaava-o rainee gaavo / gaava-o saas saas / dukhan gaava-o sukh bhee gaava-o maaraqg panth samhaaree" [GGS:401.14] - "Praises while I am at peace, as well I contemplate Him while I walk along the path." This is the thanksgiving prescribed by Guru Granth Sahib on how to take 'dukh and sukh' in one's stride.