Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Lessons from Norman Rockwell and Sabastian

Once again we are gathered around tables that over flow with food. We list them as one of our many blessings that we should be and are grateful for, I am no different in this regard. We have a list of other blessings that we are grateful for and we speak them aloud and they sound like a litany that we read from the Sunday bulletin in church. We mention our homes, we mention our family, some mention health, I don't hear that one quite as often as the other things, food, home and family. Saying these things aloud helps to make them more real for ourselves, and it's a good exercise, we we should practice more often.

We don't all sit at spinet pianos in the ski lodge like Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney in White Christmas and sing, “When I'm worried and I can't sleep, I count by blessings instead of sheep.” We don't do it with dewy eyes like Rosemary does it in her Panavision crush on the crooner. There are things to be grateful for that many people don't think about and there are prayers that we should offer that would be completely foreign to the Irving Berlin's holiday film, but in all due respect, he only had 180 minutes.

When the Indianapolis Children's Museum hosted a wonderful exhibit of Norman Rockwell art and education I took my nephew Sabastian to see it. Actually, he thought that he was going to be more interested in the dinosaur exhibit and the Dinosphere is pretty darned cool, I'll agree. He walked into the exhibit of Norman Rockwell art and was giving me that, “shoot me now, “ look that teenagers have on their face when they think that something is going to be lame. The deeper we got into the exhibit, complete with three dimensional recreations of Saturday Evening Post covers, the more his senses were awakened, he noticed the details and pointed them out to me. He asked questions about some of the pictures and noticed that some of the covers had cars in them that he could identify, even in their often old and rusty condition. The thing that will be forever etched into my mind is when we got to the room that held over size prints of Norman Rockwell's famous paintings, The Four Freedoms. There was an old floor model radio sitting in the room, the only other thing there. Playing on the radio was a recording of Franklin Roosevelt giving his speech on The Four Freedoms. Sabastian covertly backed up to the radio so that he could hear the speech given by the president that faced most of the early part of Word War II. The look on my nephew's face changed and he began to study the pictures that were in front of him, when the “The Freedom From Want ” was spoken of by the late president there was a bit of mist in Sabastian's eyes and when, “The Freedom of Speech” was talked about Sabastian looked at the painting and stood with the same posture of the defiant looking man voicing his opinion in the picture.

I felt a sense of pride in my nephew that I will always hold closely in my heart. I think that the other two freedoms were meaningful to him, but for some reason these two caused a heart string to quiver at the sound of FDR's words. At the end of the exhibit there is the famous painting and this one the original of the young black girl being walked to school by the Federal Marshals with the splattered tomatoes on the wall behind her. I walked over to the painting and looked, as it moves me each time that I see it. (Frankly, I think that it should be on a postage stamp issued in each price point so that it is seen often.) Sabastian walked up beside me and studied the painting, getting close to it and assuming the museum stance, that being, his hands folded behind his back. I know that he wanted to touch the surface, the frame or something because he wanted to connect with it with something other than his eyes. He turned to me and simply said, “It wasn't fair was it?” shaking his head and feeling the shame that the entire nation should feel and many felt as the picture made the cover of the magazine. Then he turned to me and said, “I'm thankful that I don't have to live like that and I hope that she doesn't have to any more.” No greater words have ever been spoken by a budding young man. I choked back the tears and couldn't say anything to him, he put his arm around my shoulder and gave me a pull toward him.

We have many things to be grateful for, many many things, but just as I said before, we have things to be grateful for that we never mention. Like Sabastian, we should be grateful for the fact that life has changed in a great many ways for a great many of the children in the world. We need to be grateful that there are people trying to make change happen for those still in need. We should be grateful for the health care that we do have and pray for those who don't have it at all. We should be grateful for having an appetite when we sit down to our table and pray for those who simply aren't hungry. We should be grateful for our friends and family and we should pray for them when they hurt us or when we hurt them.

I can't say that I do all these things, I can say that I do a few of them. I thank God for his grace and goodness, his mercy and kindness, and yet that somehow doesn't seem enough. I have a friend who has seen more life than I have and she says, “I have so much that I feel ashamed that I don't give more.” I am thankful for her humbleness, I know of no other person in my life who is more generous.

It's hard to look at what we have and not want more, it's hard to look at what we don't have and be grateful for not having them. It proves that God is watching out for us. It's hard not to be hurt by people and even harder to forgive them. I recall one preacher saying, “We like God should forgive, however, God forgets and doesn't allow us to, he wants us to remember the lesson.” Great deal of wisdom in those well spoken words.

I think that at this time of expressing our gratitude we need to list a few things that we are not thankful for. I'm not thankful for my attitude about somethings. I'm not grateful for not being able to shake the feelings that I have about some issues in my life right now. I wish that they were reversed and on the other side of the gratitude list.

When I think back to that display at the museum, and the pictures of the Four Freedoms that were larger than life, I realize that all of them really spoke to me and have for a long time in my life, but then I have had more life than Sabastian has, I see the faces in “The Freedom of Religion” and I see the many faces looking to their place of prayer, be it heaven or the face to the earth, eyes opened or closed, beads between fingers or folded fingers. And I see the loving parents looking over their sleeping child and I think about “The Freedom from Fear” and I wish that I could embrace that one more closely. Yet, when I think of all those pictures, I find myself feeling a bit misty eyed too, just as my nephew was in that great hall with the president extolling the virtues that he wanted an apprehensive nation to embrace in the time of war.

My friend Rev. Jim Shaffer so often said in his offertory prayer, “Lord, you have given us all things, and yet we ask for one thing more, a grateful heart.” I find that to be my Thanksgiving prayer.

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