The Word of God

A Panda Bear Thanksgiving in 2020

family with grandpa around table at Thanksgiving dinner

If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Two years ago, there were multiple births of children that curtailed travel and the usual Thanksgiving dinner at Grandpa’s. Last year, kids had the flu and this year, well, this year it’s COVID-19 that’s preventing this family from all parts to gather in Phoenix and share the turkey (and all the fixings) with the virtual patriarch of the family. Of course, there will be Zoom-ing, Skype-ing, and FaceTime-ing, but they all knew that it would simply not be the same. Well, at least to be a tad optimistic, Grandpa will not be alone because his youngest daughter and her family will join him and although it’ll be considerably smaller than most years of happy memory, it will be a Thanksgiving nonetheless giving God all the gratitude they could muster.

Grandpa was happy enough and if he was disappointed with just his daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter, whom he adored, as the only attendees, you couldn’t tell. Once the little family entered his home, they were greeted with a comforting gush of aromas that catapulted them all into another existence. The house smelled so good and comforting that signaled that this would be memorable Thanksgiving for more reasons than they were prepared to experience.

Perhaps the emotional worries that have accompanied many American families this year, with the virus and everything associated with it, may have slowly and silently built tension and worry. Remembering that our children see and hear everything we say and do, the little granddaughter seemed just a little out of sorts and perhaps a little needy and rambunctious, to a surprising degree, even to her parents, but not to this wise grandfather who had lived several generations than most and who knew anxiety in children when he saw it. He had already set part of the table with the items that he was best able to provide: mashed potatoes, delicious brown gravy, and of course, dinner rolls, that although he had not prepared from scratch, the fact that he bought them and presented them, made the bread that more delicious and nourishing. And this is when it happened. As her parents brought in the turkey, well packed and bountiful, their daughter immediately bypassed the traditional greeting and hug for Grandpa, went straight to the table, grabbed a roll and proceeded to plunge it into the gravy like Shamu at SeaWorld, and slam it into her mouth. Her parents were understandably horrified, and the yelling soon began but before any further knee-jerk dressing-down reaction could further be employed, Grandpa lovingly intervened. After directing the rest of the meal to be put on hold, he called everyone to the living room and with the portrait of his late wife and their loving grandmother smiling in the background, he started.

“Look,” he began. “I want to tell you all a story before we eat. We’re all we have in this world and I cannot let this moment turn into a family disaster that separates us more than we already are.”

Then he began with his little granddaughter on his lap:

“A Tibetan legend of the panda states that many, many years ago, when these bears lived in the Himalayas, they were completely white in color. They must have resembled polar bears more than any other creature at that time and they were very playful. They lived, as it were, in a type of wintery-Eden of seemingly pure innocence and peace. They were also friends with a certain shepherdess who would watch over the flocks and fields and seemed to be a type of protective yet, maternal figure for the cubs. And just like in the Garden of Eden, there was present in this snowy playground, mortal danger always lurking nearby.  It was the angry leopard, ravenous and envious of the sweet laughter and love of these child-like and guiltless souls.”

“Late one afternoon, as the sun began to drop behind the majestic snow-capped mountains, the shepherdess began to herd all the bears home after a long day when she spotted a cub playing near the brush covering the base of the mountain. Suddenly, without warning, the leopard seized upon his wicked moment, leapt out in front of his young prey with only one deadly intention. The shepherdess ran with all her might toward them both and threw herself in front of the cub and, after a mighty struggle, remained lifeless and silent upon the earth which stood hard as iron. She was simply no match for the vicious claws and fangs of the evil predator and its barbarous intentions and died protecting innocence upon the frozen ground. The horrific sounds of the battle mixed with the cries of the panda cub echoed throughout the valley and brought the remaining den of bears quickly to the scene. They arrived utterly stunned in disbelief at the sight of such carnage and butchery, the pristine snow-covered ground now drenched in layers of bright red casualty.”

“The next day they gathered for the funeral of the brave girl who risked everything to save one of their own. With broken hearts and tear-soaked faces they approached the place of burial where, as was their custom, they would gather and throw black ashes upon the neatly shrouded body as it was made ready for its final resting ground. But it was too much for them. One after the other, they could not contain their cries of pain and anguish. With ashes still in their paws, they wiped their eyes, held each other tightly, arm upon arm, and then held their ears shut so as to block the sounds of their grieving pain while they sat miserably in the remaining heaps of the dark, cold cinders. The once ivory-white fur of these pandas was now blackened like the night as their guardian and friend was laid to rest.”

And then Grandpa concluded, “To this day, it is said, that those markings have remained to remind all of nature and all of humanity of that certain bravery and love until death, and to say, ‘Thank You.’”

After a healthy paused laced with a few cleansing, cathartic tears, this relieved microcosm of the universe returned to the table. One by one, with the magnificent Phoenix sunset as an almost literary backdrop, each detailed the people and things in this world for which they were most grateful. Little Granddaughter was last: “And I want to thank God for Grandpa!”

Grandpa acknowledged the youthful tribute with, “And I love you, too, Light of my Life!” After the prayerful grace and without instruction, the little girl lifted the breadbasket and offered a nice roll to everyone at the table, serving herself last. Crisis averted. Family intact and no worse for the wear.

Many who lived enough years have remarked in recent memory that by now we should have learned the obvious lesson that Thanksgiving should not be just a day, but truly a way of life. If there is anything to be learned by the strain placed upon our lives this year, especially by COVID-19, it is to be thankful each and every day for our existence. Why should we have to wait for just one day a year to tell those we love and treasure how much they mean to us?

What are you waiting for?

Always direct your thoughts to those truths that will give you confidence, hope, joy, love, thanksgiving, and turn away your mind from those that inspire you with fear, sadness, depression.  Caro Vanni

But see, in our open clearings, how golden the melons lie; Enrich them with sweets and spices, and give us the pumpkin pie!  Margaret Junkin Preston

“I come from a family where gravy is considered a beverage.”  Erma Bombeck

Share your thoughts (14 thoughts)

14 thoughts on “A Panda Bear Thanksgiving in 2020”

  • Kristen says:

    This year was the first thanksgiving we weren’t going to have with our sister.
    She’s an ICU nurse, you see, working in the COVID unit. Our family understood the circumstances, but it didn’t hide the pain she felt at the realization what we weren’t going to all be together this year. There was discussion on how we were going to do our Thanksgiving prayer this year as well. Do we hold hands? Or keep them to ourselves? My mom had set the table with chairs a good distance apart from each other and had disposable gloves handy for serving. It was a surreal sight.

    The few of us mingled and watched the football game while we waited for my sister to call us on FaceTime for the prayer. When she hadn’t called, my dad began to worry and picked up the phone to call her…. when she walked into the door after being away for months and months, tending to patients all around the state. We were shocked and the tears poured out. No only was she here with us, she was also pregnant! Yes, I’ve been blessed with another nephew! My sister was careful not to get too close to us, but assured us she took two showers and used sanitizer often during their drive home. I found myself involuntarily counting to make sure we were under ten people.

    After we had wiped our tears of seeing her, we decided to begin the prayer. My grandpa, wearing his mask and removing his dapper cap, led us in prayer:

    “Thank you, Lord, for this meal we’re about to receive. Please bless everyone this day with something to eat, and to always remember you. We give all praise to you, on this day, and every day. In Jesus name, Amen.” My grandpa is a quiet man, but when it comes to prayer, his words can move mountains.

    It was time for our Thanksgiving tradition: taking turns naming all the things we are thankful for. Every year, we laugh and cry as each of us gives thanks to God and our families and our blessings… this year, there were more tears, more silence than in the past. Our thanks were given for our lives. Thanks was given that my sister and her unborn baby were safe so far, and that God continues to watch over her. My brother in law thanked God for her health, and the health of the baby. My husband and I thanked our parents for staying strong when we couldn’t anymore. Their faith gave us motivation to keep ours up. My grandpa thanked my mom and his granddaughters for taking care of him as he is unable to due to his illness, keeping him inside during the pandemic. My sister prayed for the families who wouldn’t get to celebrate Thanksgiving with their loved ones this year. She’d seen many deaths this year alone… I’d only seldom seen her cry; I thought it was the hormones, but her pain… her pain was all over her face. It was very real. My heart broke for her… She thanked God that they were at peace, that they were no longer suffering. Thanks was given to God for allowing us one more Thanksgiving together, in hopes we would be blessed with another one together next year. My grandpa closed out the gathering: “Lord, the world needs your outstretched arms to help heal. Bring peace to those who are struggling with pain and suffering all around us. Fill our hearts with your love. We are blessed to know you, Lord. Amen.”

    One thing was absolutely certain in these confusing, painful, and challenging times: God has not abandoned us. He lives and grows within us with each passing day. As I watched my family share heartfelt stories and jokes and God— our precious God—- was right at the center of it all.

    I choked back my tears as I watched my family together again, and as if He was standing right next to me, I whispered a soft and heartfelt, “Thank you, my God.. thank you.” And the tears lightly rolled down my cheeks.

    • Caro says:

      What a wonderful and timely message you have blessed us with during this time between Thanksgiving and the First Sunday of Advent, Kristen! God bless you abundantly for the remarkable story and real-life drama that you helped unfold before us all. While taking my first read over your reflection, I stopped upon the following to let the words sink in and paint the moment so that I could benefit from the spiritual blessing and keep it close as we near the wonderful days of Advent and Christmas: “Thank you, Lord, for this meal we’re about to receive. Please bless everyone this day with something to eat, and to always remember you. We give all praise to you, on this day, and every day. In Jesus name, Amen.” My grandpa is a quiet man, but when it comes to prayer, his words can move mountains. My deep hope at this very moment is that so many more families were able to experience the love and gratitude that clearly filled the air yesterday and were empowered to keep looking for the greatest of blessings in this life. And you are absolutely right: GOD HAS NOT ABANDONED US. If this one lesson can be learned during our week of profoundly giving thanks, then we have experienced our first pre-Christmas miracle. And as we reflect on this poignant truth, we must come to the wonderful realization that of course, God has not abandoned us: He sent us His Son Jesus to redeem our lives and lead us home to Heaven where there will be no more debilitating viruses, no more social or other kinds of distancing, and no more longing. Thank you again, Kristen, and may God bless us all as we move forward in this great adventure we call life. “God will never leave you empty. He will replace everything you lost. If He asks you to put something down, it is because He wants you to pick up something greater.”

  • Julie Trevino says:

    This was another inspiring story. A true Thanksgiving story.
    How blessed I am to open my eyes every morning and take a breath. Something so simple and yet something we take for granted. My favorite line was right before the grandfather started his story, he said “We’re all we have in this world…” Families are so important. Covid 19 has made us realize this. Something we all knew but again we sometimes take for granted. We all need to make peace with our families before it’s too late. This Thanksgiving might be a little somber for some, especially the elderly…but it shouldn’t be.
    On this Thanksgiving day I am thankful for my Jesus Christ Who died for ME!! I am the panda bear and He is my Shepard, my Thanksgiving!
    Happy and A Blessed Thanksgiving to all.

    • Caro says:

      Yes, indeed, Julie! You have found the Christ-figure in our blog post today! Jesus sacrificed His precious life for each one of us so that we might have the awesome freedom to thank Him with our lives, our attitudes, and our daily actions towards others. We are all we have in this world and Jesus is the source of 100% of that gift! Thank you once again for sharing your thoughts with us and rest assured that your wishes for a blessed Thanksgiving will resonate throughout our readership as I wish you and your beloved family the same. “We should certainly count our blessings, but we should also make our blessings count.”

  • This year, living in Florida. I am more fortunate than most. Thanks be to God that we are not required to maintain the same amount of restrictions than others. I have been invited to a lovely Catholic families home for the traditional Thanksgiving feast and for that I am Thankful, however sadness always finds its way into our lives in one way or another for you see, I will not be spending it with my family.
    My family, what’s left of it, lives in Chicago. Thanksgiving, or any holiday will never be the same for me. My father has entered into his heavenly reward, and he was always the most important aspect of our family. My mother is in late stage dementia and is a mere shell of her former self. Nieces and nephews have all grown up and moved on. The rest, in lockdown.
    Nonetheless, I am Thankful for so many things to even be able to count and still find great joy in the little things.
    Blessed Thanksgiving to all.

    • Caro says:

      Thank you, Brother, for reminding us of the necessary compassion we are all called to embrace during these times of feasts and festivity. There are in fact many obstacles that stand in the way of a fully-engaged and immersed moment that brings us closer to God and the attitude of gratitude that we need to know the depths of God’s love for us. You also remind us that we must continue to pray for each other in every situation that may sadden us or cause us pain. This increases the love of Christ in our hearts and solidarity in the Cross of Christ. God bless you, Brother. We are truly in this together.

  • Veronica Altamirano says:

    A beautifully written article about love, being thankful, and appreciating the moments we are given with our loved ones. Some grandparents have this special way of making everything right and this grandpa did just that. May we all never take for granted the moments we have with our loved ones and may every day be a day to give thanks. God bless you and Happy Thanksgiving! Until the next one!

    • Caro says:

      Thank you, Veronica, for reminding us that there are still those among us who know just the right things to say and do to avoid calamities and emotional disasters. This is yet another reason to give thanks always and to believe that the best is still yet to come. Happy Thanksgiving to you and all your family!

  • Tony Montez says:

    Last year we decided to have a thanksgiving family reunion at the home of my 93 year old mother. We had a buffet style setup on the backyard patio and tables and chairs under a large canopy. There was about 80 plus people there that day. My mother led the meal blessing and a few of us added to her prayer. It was an amazingly beautiful day. Of course, this year is very different because of covid-19. Mostly people are staying in their own homes and not traveling. And even though this year is very different, it occurred to me that everything I was grateful for last year I’m still grateful for now. God’s goodness seems to play on a continuous loop of gratitude and grace, bonded with intertwined love; Thanksgiving.

    • Caro says:

      And a wonderfully blessed Thanksgiving to you, Dr. Montez and thank you for once again gracing our pages with your customary insightful perspectives on all things Thanksgiving. I particularly enjoyed and greatly profited from your observation that even though we may not have droves of people to surround our tables this Thursday, the meaning and the reason behind it all remains the same if not enhanced by the challenges which COVID-19 has brought upon many family gatherings this year. Our wish for all our readers is that we may have the privilege of riding the “continuous of gratitude and grace,” not only this week but also every day we wake up and smell the enticing aroma of this life. Happy Thanksgiving, Tony

  • Denise Guerra says:

    What a lovely story. A remarkable testament to the meaning of thanksgiving. Sometimes we do get wrapped up in the matters of the world and forget that everyday that we are given is truly a day for being grateful. If more people were to learn to be more appreciative, then everyday would be a day of thanksgiving. We should all be thankful for the gifts God has given us.

    • Caro says:

      Welcome back and many, many hope-filled, happy, and memorable Thanksgiving wishes upon you and your entire family! “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” God bless you, Denise. Read you next time

    • Caro says:

      “We should certainly count our blessings, but we should also make our blessings count.”

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