It’s that time of year again. The emotions, expectations and traditional series of events converge for six weeks to make up what we refer to as “the holidays.” Viewing the goings on around us this opening week of the season might lead one to believe that we all kind of approach Round One the same way. But obviously, we don’t.
Thanksgiving is the greatest American holiday. As it exists today, there is little in the way of religion driving the tradition, a feature of which I am particularly fond. That wasn’t always the case, and I will thank Thomas Jefferson for the church-free atmosphere of this week’s celebration. Apparently, he refused to endorse the tradition, due to his unwavering view of how church and state should remain separate. Thanks, TJ.
Today, the fourth Thursday of November has no space left for church or state. What, with football and food binges dominating the day, who has room for any spiritual cleansing? Actually, all of us.
Take Blake Corum for example. I don’t often write or speak glowingly about a star football player for the University of Michigan. Often? Ever is more like it. But Corum’s Sunday-before-Thanksgiving tradition caught my eye. The senior running back spends that day giving away turkeys to families in need using some of the money he makes from the use of his name, identity, likeness, or NIL. In 2021, he donated and delivered 200 turkeys. Last year, he upped it to 300. And on Sunday, he doubled it to 600, this year in the Ypsilanti area, east of Ann Arbor.
“This is my purpose,” Corum said Sunday. The day before, he carried the ball 28 times in Michigan’s win over Maryland. This coming Saturday, he’ll play in the biggest game of his life against Ohio State, a game devotees of the Big Ten Conference likely consider the national championship. I know I do.
It’s a charitable gesture. It’s not all that unusual. Yea, he’s got a lot going on at the moment and it would be easier to focus on that moment, instead of focusing on others. But I believe him when he says giving is his purpose.
The Carter example
The news of the weekend was the passing of one of the planet’s most notorious givers. Former First Lady Rosalyn Carter was admitted to hospice care on Saturday, and died on Sunday. She was 96. She and former President Jimmy Carter were married for 77 years, and as any married person can attest, that alone defines a life full of giving.
But she and her husband are the standard, the modern example by which all other givers should be compared. They both gave with the type of enthusiasm and grace that made it clear that it was their purpose too.
Fittingly, she founded the Rosalyn Carter Institute for Caregivers in 1987. Though RCI specifically supports the 53 million caregivers in America today, the organization is merely a component of a life, two lives really, that were impeccably well-lived.
The former president will be without her for the first time since they were teenagers, the sad result of life’s inevitability. But what lives they led!
I oddly remember the Carter years in the White House, primarily because my older brother was stationed on the USS Eisenhower, an at-the-time brand new aircraft carrier. He spent a year on that ship parked in the Persian Gulf waiting to attack Iran during the hostage crisis. The Eisenhower is back in the Middle East today, parked in the east Mediterranean Sea with its eyes on Iran again.
That’s not what I see when I think of President Carter though. I see him with a toolbelt on, hammering nails into what will become a new Habitat for Humanity home. “Habitat has successfully removed the stigma of charity by substituting it with a sense of partnership,” he said about the work.
My primary question is simpler though: How happy were they? The statement from the U.S. Secret Service on Sunday helps paint that picture. “Farewell Mrs. Carter…It has been our honor to protect and serve you for all of these years. You were truly a treasure for our nation and our Secret Service family.” Serving the Carters was described by the agency as a “delight.”
Giving is what made the Carters delightful. And Blake Corum. And all who follow these examples and countless others to define our individual life’s purpose. Defining our lives this way individually can only raise the humanity and happiness of our communities, small and big.
This Thursday, while giving thanks for all of the things for which we have deep gratitude, take a moment to be thankful for all of our opportunities for the giving itself.