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Time is not the only measure of a given life. Fragile though life be, current research looks to longevity for answers about how to make life last even longer. It can too easily seem as if time is the most important element of living.
Thanksgiving offers the opportunity to look at another factor that claims attention as a measure of what is called “the good life” – the quality of one’s journey, however long or short, between birth and dying.
What exactly comprises any life’s quality? Besides success or lack thereof three factors loom as essential: good health, financial comfort and relationships, all of which are celebrated at Thanksgiving. Of course, all are relative to to individual value systems and challenges along the way.
Good health means different things to different people. Disabled veterans, cancer survivors, heart attack and stroke victims may be even more thankful than many others that they are alive and functioning, appreciating time on a day-to-day basis. They do not take for granted the gift of each sunrise and heartbeat and the health that keeps them going. Their lessons for others should not be ignored.
Financial comfort does not necessarily mean wealth or security, an over-abundance of cash-at-hand or even getting by. Having “enough” is relative to one’s values and world view, prompting a quality of thankfulness many wish for but may never know. The poor and homeless among us present a paradox to the meaning of democracy and America itself. In an ideal world those more fortunate would show unhesitatingly their gratitude by reaching out to help and encourage others less fortunate to realize their potential. A capitalist democracy should benefit all, not just the wealthy. Community need not be a synonym for communism but simply a commitment and effort to care about one another.
Perhaps that is why the quality of many lives depends so much on relationships, and why Thanksgiving focuses so strongly on families. Nothing in human experience is more meaningful or powerful than love. Nothing measures the quality of one’s life more clearly than love. Wealth without love is ultimately worthless. Health without love can be as deadly as loneliness. Relationships bind all to the realization of the Oneness of life.
Thanksgiving celebrates that truth, focusing both on family and the gifts of God’s blessings. But even gratitude comes up short without generosity since God’s gifts to each of us are meant ultimately for everyone. Sharing them is a wonderful way to give thanks and perhaps the best measure of the quality of one’s life.