There will be a tiny baby sprawled comfortably in Beth's lap during Thanksgiving dinner this year.
That's not all that unusual. She has eight nieces and nephews who have invaded her lap space from time to time during Thanksgivings past.
But this year it will be decidedly different. For the first time in Beth's 23 Thanksgivings, the baby on her lap will be her baby.
And she's thankful.
William was born a week ahead of schedule — if not the baby's schedule, certainly ours.
It was our hope that William could delay his debut until after my wife, Anita, and I returned from our 35th wedding anniversary trip.
But he had other ideas. He was born a few days after we left. It won't be until Thanksgiving night that we will be able to finally get our hands on him.
So Beth is thankful for a lot of things this Thanksgiving: the safe arrival of her healthy baby boy; a strong, supportive husband; a loving, attentive mother-in-law; and, of course, whoever it was who invented the epidural.
Anita and I are grateful, too. We're grateful William is here, safe and sound. We're thankful his mother had such a profoundly sweet experience in bringing new life into the world. We're thankful William's other grandma could come when we couldn't. We're thankful for happy endings and new beginnings, all wrapped up into one.
But what about William? What is he thankful for on his first Thanksgiving Day?
The question isn't as far-fetched as it sounds, I don't think. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that somewhere deep in his DNA a gratitude gene lurks, filling his tiny little soul with infant appreciation for the blessings in his brand-spanking-new life: clean, dry diapers; a seemingly endless supply of food; lots of arms to hold him; the sweet, familiar sound of his mother's voice; warm, soft blankets in which to be cuddled; a father who can speak Italian.
OK, maybe not that last one.
William's needs are simple and his demands are few. He doesn't care that his parents are inexperienced. He isn't concerned about elections, scandals or geopolitical conflict. He isn't obsessed with the ebb and flow of Wall Street, the inconsistent play of his hometown sports teams, celebrity split-ups or the high price of gasoline. As much as it pains me to say it, he doesn't even care that Anita and I aren't there.
As long as he is fed, clean, warm and safe and there is somebody there to hold him, he's content.
And in his own way, I think he's grateful.
At the end of the day — at least, at the end of Thanksgiving Day — I think it's that way for all of us.
Of course, as William gets older he will become more aware of life's details. Even a year from now, when Beth puts her toddler in a high chair for Thanksgiving dinner, his feelings about what he thinks he needs will be decidedly more complex and — when it comes right down to it — convoluted.
Contemporary living has a way of making us truly believe that our wants and desires are needs when, for the most part, they really aren't. We need food. We need shelter. We need safety. We need security. And we need love. That's what we need.
Just ask William. He knows.
Unfortunately, there are far too many in the world — even in our own neighborhoods — for whom these most basic needs remain unfulfilled this Thanksgiving Day.
They should always be in our prayers and in our benevolent efforts throughout the year.
For the rest of us, there is food on our Thanksgiving table, there is a roof safely over our heads and there are loved ones in our hearts if not at our sides. We may not have all that we want, but we have all that we need. We should be thankful.
Even if we're not sprawled comfortably on our mother's lap.
To read more by Joseph B. Walker, please go to www.josephbwalker.com.
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