Celebrating Wishgiving

     The table was set, new candles waited in the brass candlesticks, and outside the turkey was turning on a spit over the grill's charcoal-and-applewood coals. In the living room, three people sat huddled over pieces of paper, sometimes emitting a sigh of angst, sometimes crumpling a piece of paper and starting over.  Thanksgiving preparations were coming to a close, and it was nearly time to gather around the table.
    "I don't know what to wish!" complained one of my children. 
     This year, we asked everyone coming to the Thanksgiving table to bring one simple wish, written on a piece of paper, for every other person at the table. Usually we go around the table and say something we're thankful for. It's a good thing to do. But I also think it's a first step. You are standing in your own shoes examining the blessings that affect your life. Even if you're grateful that someone who was very, very sick has recovered -- it's still your own gratitude that is responding.
     To make a wish for someone else means you have to take the next step: to think about her, you need to get out of your shoes and try standing in hers for a minute. What does she need or want? What is he up to in his life? What is important? It's not a pop quiz; we told everyone a week ahead that we would be doing this. Even the out-of-town guests had a couple of days to discover a thing or two about the others who would be at the Thanksgiving table. So why the angst in the living room?
     Many of us are not in the habit of actively listening to each other. In our family, a lot of our conversations are about what happened that day, or what needs to happen. To be wish-givers, we have to exercise new muscles by asking more curiosity questions and listening between the lines. We have to be givers instead of receivers. And do this across generations.
     So there we were, eight people, each with a motley pile of paper next to our plate of heaping food. We ate and laughed and talked and listened, and when we finally slowed down, surreptitious nervous glances at the little piles signaled it was time to start.
     My brother-in-law volunteered to be first.  He read a wish for Anna, and gave it to her. That was easy. Then she picked up one of her wishes, and read it to her grandmother, who loved it. Gammy then read one to my sister, who then read one to me, and then I read one to Andrew... each followed by handing the paper wish across the table to that person. There were murmurs of surprise and appreciation, empathy and love. 
By the end, we all had a new motley pile of paper next to our plates, but in each pile were seven distinct wishes conceived, expressed and given personally to us. It was a wealth of wishes. And we were a family woven a little tighter, connected by the intimacy of wishing specific goodness for each other, out loud, in the presence of all at the table. 

     I think this is more than a new Thanksgiving tradition. Wishgiving can happen any time: at a Sunday night dinner, when a book group wraps up, on Christmas or New Year's Day, when a child is about to depart for college. As someone at our table said while looking through her pile of wishes: "I really felt heard." That's something to be thankful for.

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