Every year before Thanksgiving I honor a personal tradition of making a list of people and things for which and for whom I am thankful this year. The one twist to my list is that I never put on the list the people (family, friends) and things (home, food, job, nation) that always appear on the normal Thanksgiving lists. I encourage you, my dear readers (yes, you are on the list) to follow me at your Thanksgiving table. Ask your guests to list someone or something for which they want to give thanks. It must be something or someone unusual, that rarely gets the thanks they/it deserve. As an example, my favorite item on past lists: squirrels.
So, this year's Thanksgiving little-known list begins with:
Angels on the subway. In the Bible, angels are not winged things with halos and harps. They could be, but most angels are just ordinary people on a mission given to them by God. They do not even know that they are angels. In fact, the Hebrew word for angel is malach, a word just means a messenger. When the three angels come to visit Abraham, they are described as three men (Genesis 18:2). When the angels wrestled with Jacob it is described as "a man wrestled with him" (Genesis 32:25). They are people, but they are also angels.
This year a good-news story popped up a few weeks ago about an angel who surfaced in Oakland, California, in the Bay Area Rapid Transit System. Surveillance videos captured the stunning images of a transportation supervisor named John O'Connor pulling a man to safety who had fallen onto the tracks just in front of an oncoming train.
"I just looked at him and said, 'He's not going to make it.' Let me see, because it's hard to get out of there," O'Connor told reporters Monday. "It is not like you could just jump up and get out of there. You know, I was just fortunate God put me there and he got to see another day."
At least John O'Connor knew that he was an angel. Is there someone who saved you? They did not have to pull you from the subway tracks but perhaps they saved you in other ways. Perhaps the angels in your life are the people who appeared in your life at exactly the right moment and at exactly the right time with exactly the right message? Say their name before you cut the turkey. Call them after the holiday. The angels in your life deserve a little thanks and love.
Stationery. We live in a time when people mostly do not write — and if they do, it is electronic writing. There once was a time when people wrote on real paper with real pens, some were even fountain pens that you had to fill with real ink. Then you put the letter into an envelope and you wrote an address on it and you put a stamp on it and you put it in a mailbox and you sent it to a real person. I miss those times. Emails are better than nothing but only slightly. Your kids and grandchildren should always have stationery with their names on it and they should learn to write letters and thank-you notes.
This holiday season why not give the people on your gift list some stationery as a gift?
With an email there is always some doubt as to its sincerity. With a handwritten note on real paper with a good fountain pen there is no doubt. I am thankful that once upon a time, not so long ago, people wrote real letters. Paper connects us. Now holiday cards are the only paper correspondence left and even they are being replaced by email holiday greetings. The best questions I receive from you, my dear readers, are the questions that come to me on paper. Some have stains from tears. It's hard to send a tear over the internet.
Happy Thanksgiving and God bless us, one and all.
A note from (S) about the column on helping people who want to kill themselves because they are gravely ill:
Dear Rabbi Gellman, my brother told me this apparently true story told to him by one of his teachers: A long time ago, a man went to his doctor, who told him, "You have pernicious anemia. There is nothing that we can do for you. You'll be in pain for six months and then you are going to die." The man went home and killed himself. The headline in the very next day's paper read, "Cure found for pernicious anemia." Draw your own conclusion.
Thank you, S. May God bless us all until that God chooses to kiss us on the lips and take our breath away.
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