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Kim Phillips: Try a kernel or two of thankfulness

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Kim Phillips

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. According to History.com, this is how it all began:

"In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn't until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November."

We all share many Thanksgiving traditions in common: turkey, family, football, pumpkin pie, sweet potatoes, parades and grace. Readers have asked me to share again a special tradition my family practices. 

As we gather at the Thanksgiving table, before anyone is served or grace is said, each person has two kernels of corn on their bare plate. A small bowl sits at the head of the table and Dad passes the empty bowl to his left. That person must tell two things they are thankful for, dropping a kernel in the little bowl with each testimony of thanksgiving. Then the bowl goes to the next person and all around the table. When it makes its way back to Dad, he adds his two kernels and the bowl is filled. We join hands, bow our heads, and Dad leads us in a prayer of gratefulness for the many blessings represented in the little bowl. Then we eat and linger much longer than an average mealtime, relishing our togetherness as much as every delicious bite.

Two kernels are never enough. At least one or two people will squeeze a few thanks into one. For instance, "I'm thankful for our family, my best friend and Lucy, my kitty," might all fall on one scant kernel. We're not hard and fast on the rules, though, because the point is to think about it. There are so many good things in every life, and for every trouble, someone in the world out there has it worse.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines thanksgiving as, "the act of giving thanks." I am glad for Thanksgiving because, in my opinion, we don't thank enough. As a culture, we more-often-than-not live inward lives, focusing on the trappings and taking for granted all the good stuff. I know for myself, it's completely unintentional. I'm just busy and don't stop to consider the nuances and moments and everyday gifts mixed among the clutter of calendars, deadlines, obligations and to-do lists that have no end.

Perhaps thanksgiving requires stillness. That's a tough assignment for me. You're probably not that different. I imagine Abe Lincoln struggled, too, and realized we all need at least one day a year to be still and dwell on the good things. Think about it. Americans were in the throes of one of our country's darkest hours when he proclaimed this day of thanks. Remarkable. Yet, Thanksgiving Day was born because centering on even the simplest favor births hope in the heart.

Watching the news, listening to random conversation and scrolling through social feeds, I doubt I am alone in thinking that today we are living in troubled times. While we are not in an all-out war such as President Lincoln had on his hands, society's tone doesn't sound so different from the national fragmenting that was going on back then. It is heart-wrenching and scary. I think many of us wonder if we can pull back from this dangerous precipice so jagged with anger and hate. We wonder if we're all going over the edge together and what America will look like after the fact.

America is the greatest democratic experiment in the history of man. We don't want to see it end. Could the simple determination to be intentionally thankful for our collective blessings be the first step in the right direction? I believe the idea has merit. Thankfulness leads to hope, and collective thankfulness leads to unity.

Around your table this Thursday, try the kernel tradition. Family. Health. Jobs. Love. Peace. Friendship. We, every one, are granted good things and in many unique ways.

We live in America, in Texas, undoubtedly the greatest of our 50 states. And Denton is the most outstanding city and community of which to be a part. I challenge you to start right there. Then give yourself permission to be still and start counting your blessings one kernel at a time. I bet you can fill a bowl by yourself.

Happy Thanksgiving.

KIM PHILLIPS is vice president of the Denton Convention & Visitors Bureau at the Denton Chamber of Commerce. She loves promoting Denton's original, independent spirit through the city's sense of place and cast of many characters. She can be reached at kim@discoverdenton.com.