My old and cherished friend, Paul Jarrett, writes from Phoenix Arizona:
“Thanksgiving is the day we reserve for giving thanks.
When I was small, every meal was preceded by “returning thanks” which was “Grace” before meals. It was “returned” by my father if present, or mother if not.
This brief prayer was to express gratitude for God’s many blessings and to ask for His continuing guidance. We did not eat before the “Blessing” was asked.
While it is true that when small I was impatient to get this ritual over so that I could scarf down my meal, it is also true that I can hear Dad today in my mind’s ear reciting the blessing and realize how important it was to him, no mere gesture or formality.
Once in awhile in a restaurant I see a person asking God’s blessing on the food they are about to eat, but very seldom. I must admit that I do not do it myself so as not to attract attention. For that matter I do not “return thanks” when I am by myself at home, a matter that I shall correct.
God doesn’t need these rituals, we do.”
Paul is exceedingly old and exceedingly wise. In his time he has been a military surgeon, an aviator, a morbid anatomist. This means he could fly you to hospital, operate on you, and should you be ungrateful enough to die, Paul would, without hard feelings, carry out your autopsy.
Paul describes himself as conservative. He claims to be to the right of Barry Goldwater. He shows a photo to prove it.
Nowadays, Paul cuts neither the living nor the dead. He contents himself with wise and sometimes splenetic observations about a world and a nation going to the dogs.
Paul’s reminiscences are always evocative. His recollections of Grace evoked this memory of my own:
I recall growing up in a country town in new south wales where our family were the only Jews.
my closest friend’s family were Presbyterian.
like my friends the jarretts, the wanklyns provided kosher meals so i could eat with them.
dulcie wanklyn prefaced each meal with: FOR WHAT WE ARE ABOUT TO RECEIVE THE LORD MAKE US TRULY GRATEFUL.
i recall sitting through this small ritual, head down, in quiet uncharacteristic decorum.
i’d gaze at the linen napery, each napkin held furled inside its collar of china or silver or pewter.
it all seemed holy.
no-one ate, no-one spoke, until AMEN was heard.
it never occurred to me that the benedictions my father taught me and which we recited before and after every meal, were likewise, Grace, and likewise holy
the problem with an everyday ritual is ritualisation, the normalisation of the quite audacious idea of finite man reaching with words towards infinte God
mrs wanklyn never made Grace feel mundane