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The seven faces of giving thanks

| Friday, November 16, 2018

While on my way to work on Thursday, waiting for a red light to change, I glanced at a lump of blankets piled in a bus stop shelter. A skinny, fragile hand extended from the mound and slowly fed morsels of a candy bar to a partially exposed, thin, drawn elderly jaw. With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, I thought of my long-gone grandmother and wondered if someone would comfort this homeless soul with a turkey dinner. Then the bus drove on as her image flickered by me.

I have yet to dust off my holiday halo, so “someone” meant “not me” in comforting this familiar face that yearned for a reason to give gratitude. Decades ago, my service to others had been more routine and vigorous, but complacency now confines me like so many others around me. What does it say about our society when many of us shamelessly shelve our seasonal greetings except when the calendar captures another heartfelt holiday commemoration? I certainly failed the angelic test at that bus stop.

Despite how personally spiritual, religious or agnostic one becomes, all of us can portray as many moods and reasons to fail as the number of days in the week. With Thanksgiving a week away, it occurs to me that each day offers a different face for us to consider helping. Coincidentally, Great Britain’s 19th Century imperial era “Pax Britannica” (“British Peace” in Latin) offers the perfect vehicle to highlight our modern mood swings through the nursery rhyme, Monday’s Child:

Monday’s child is fair of face,

Tuesday’s child is full of grace,

Wednesday’s child is full of woe,

Thursday’s child has far to go,

Friday’s child is loving and giving,

Saturday’s child works hard for his living,

And the child that is born on the Sabbath day

Is bonnie and blithe, and good and gay.

While the rhyme assigns given human traits to each day, probably based on planetary parallels known at the time — the Sun and the Moon as represented by various gods in Norse, Roman and Greek mythology — we can neatly fit into each day a type of person we have bypassed who seeks our unique efforts before offering thanks. For loved ones who are gone, we wonder how we could have saved them. For others still among us, we pray for wisdom to assist them. What can we do by the end of each day so that both they and we are thankful?

Beginning chronologically Friday (“Friday’s child is loving and giving”), Freyja was the Norse “Goddess of Love” associated with love, beauty and wealth. Despite the fact that the rhyme professes to characterize those born on Friday as fortunate and beautiful, we can find a bounty of examples of celebrities or family members who seem to have perfect lives but nonetheless commit suicide. This year, 1992 Playboy Playmate and glamour model, Stephanie Adams, pushed her 7-year-old son from a 25th-floor window and then jumped to her death.

Tomorrow’s “Saturday’s child works hard for his living” refers to Saturn (Roman god of agriculture) and is rooted in the hard work of farmers when written into the rhyme. I reflect on my blue-collar working relatives who hold down two jobs to survive or work in positions that do not compensate them with a living wage. While I cannot subsidize their plights, I should, however, visit more often whenever I am back in Pennsylvania. Together we can appreciate that we share stories and laughs.

I will cherry-pick the Sabbath day reference “bonny and blithe, and good and gay” to focus on today’s understanding of the word “gay.” Too often, many ostracize those who look or act different than they. With the rise of hate speech and discrimination, we should remain vigilant to thwart forms of intolerance.

“Monday’s child is fair of face” is based on the moon’s new phases (faces) that continuously wax and wane. Media reports the past two weeks covered the safe return of Thomas Kolding, a 15-year-old New Jersey honors freshman who ran away after arguing with his father over his scholastic potential. The kid in me rooted for him to safely stay away while the adult in me empathized with his remorseful and worried parents. For them, this Thanksgiving will be their most meaningful of all.

Týr, the Norse “God of War” parallels the Roman god, Mars, and most likely refers to a physical grace implied by “Tuesday’s child is full of grace.” We need merely reflect upon our wounded veterans to inspire us to assist anyone afflicted by war. It is not enough to thank veterans without offering aid that comforts them and civilian causalities.

I think of a relative recently diagnosed with cancer or return to my bus shelter when contemplating “Wednesday’s child is full of woe.” Modeled after Anglo-Saxon Woden and Norse Odin, these gods are affiliated with death and suffering. We simply need to not only see those ailing close to us, but also view the invisible bundled in blankets at bus stops.

Finally, Thanksgiving Day features “Thursday’s child has far to go.” Based on Thor, the Norse “God of Thunder,” it symbolizes traveling storms. The Thursday lesson revolves around how to bring thanks to others seven days a week, every week. For me, I have far to go.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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