My father, a professional journalist for more than 35 years, was invited to speak at the annual Thanksgiving Interfaith Service in Salt Lake City. I was fortunate to read his speech and loved what he had to say. I thought you would also appreciate his message this holiday season. It's a wonderful perspective into what it means to be grateful.
Thanksgiving Interfaith Service
Federal Heights Chapel
November 26, 2009
by Duane Cardall
Director of Editorials, KSL Broadcasting
Some of you may know that a couple of months ago, my oldest son Paul received a remarkable and life-saving gift. After living 36-years with a very complex congenital heart defect, and at a time when he was failing rapidly after more than a year on the heart transplant waiting list, he received a donated heart.
A lot could be said of that miraculous experience but in the context of our discussion today, one moment stands out in my mind. A couple of weeks into his recovery as we sat in his hospital room I noticed that he was looking at his hands.
“Dad,” he said, “you got any fingernail clippers?”
I didn’t, but I had to ask why.
“My fingernails are growing,” he said.
For 36-years, his nails grew very slowly, presumably for lack of a normal supply of oxygenated blood. His nails were clubbed and only needed trimming every few months. Now, though, after only two weeks with a normal four-chamber heart, his extremities were receiving a normal supply of rich, oxygenated blood and his fingernails, for the first time in his life, were growing straight and relatively rapidly. He needed to trim them.
That is something most of us, I suspect, would never consider. I certainly didn’t until that moment in Paul’s hospital room. Finger nails just grow! They need to be regularly trimmed. It is a fact of daily life and ongoing personal hygiene . . . . Something most of us simply take for granted.
It got me thinking. How many things like that in life do we take for granted - things that for one reason or another become so routine that we fail to recognize the wonder of their presence in our lives? And when we fail to acknowledge them, it seems most likely our gratitude for what we have is lacking.
Let’s talk about a few of those things in life we may have a tendency to take for granted, but are deeply consequential, nonetheless, and for which we should be ardently, even constantly grateful, while offering eternal prayers of thanksgiving.
The more thankful we are for little things, or those aspects and elements of our lives that are routinely available, the more complete will be our gratitude for the more identifiable and oft-considered impressive “big” things.
Specifically, let’s talk about the material abundance that surrounds us, the freedom we enjoy in this nation, and the presence of family and loved ones.
Gratitude for Material Abundance
Some years ago I went to a meeting called by the Board of Directors of the Upper Canal Irrigation Company. We own a share of upper canal water and at the time used the water provided to irrigate our garden. I was concerned, as everybody else was that year, about reports that we were not going to be able to get our irrigation water. I recall sitting in the meeting with a couple of hundred semi-irate water users. We were frustrated! We were angry! Summer was heating up, our crops were starting to grow and we didn’t have irrigation water. Never mind that every one of us in that meeting had cold culinary water available to us at the turn of a tap. Never mind that it had only been a couple of weeks since the last rainfall. Never mind that our grocery stores were well-stocked and our gardens were hobbies more than projects born of necessity. We were mad! We wanted our water. We wanted it right then, not later.
As I sat there I thought to myself, “What are you doing, Cardall? After what you’ve been through the last couple of weeks, do you have any right to complain about the lack of irrigation water?”
I had recently returned from a journey to Africa for work on a television documentary about a new humanitarian effort launched by a group of Utahns under the auspices of the Salt Lake Community Services Council to initiate long-term assistance to a group of villages in the nation of Mali.
I hadn’t heard much about Mali prior to that time. It didn’t take me long to learn that Mali is one of the poorest nations on earth. At the time the per capita income was a meager $140 a year and the average person lives only to the age of 39 and where one of every five children dies in infancy, where drought often takes a relentless toll allowing the vast Sahara Desert to advance at an alarming rate.
To visit Mali, I found, was to take a giant step back in time to conditions that are so alien to our perceptions as to defy description. Regardless, let me try to paint a verbal picture of what I remember.
This brings me back to the subject of water. As I sat in that water users meeting that year, images of an incredibly dry landscape popped into my mind. I also recalled scenes around life-sustaining wells that supplied enough of the precious fluid for the people to survive. Let me try to provide an image of what I mean:
It is an image of a woman standing beside a well three or four kilometers from the thatched roof hut she calls a home. By hand she lowers a tiny rubber bucket into a hole 80-90-100 feet down and then with muscles hardened from years of survival labor, she lifts the precious liquid to the surface and pours it into a larger container. Then she lifts the full container to her head and begins the long walk back to her home. Now remember, she is three or four kilometers from her home. She’ll make the journey a couple of times each day just so her family will have enough water to drink and to cook and to survive. Think about it next time you go to the tap to fill a glass, stoop to the sink to wash your face, or turn the knob to start your dishwasher.
The woman is back in her village. The heat is stifling and yet there is food to prepare, for her family must eat. She stands at the mortar and pours in a measure of millet, takes the pestle – a long stick about four or five feet long – and with rhythmic precision she begins the tedious process of pounding the grain into edible flour. Tied to her back is a baby and around her feet are a half dozen more. A neighbor will come and together they will pound, and as they pound they sing. This pounding goes on, in between trips to the well, throughout the day. There is no rest for the women of Mali. Theirs is a subsistence level existence, a daily struggle for survival, and with indomitable determination they somehow survive.
Let me give you another image - this one of the men of Mali. There in the field in Sungala Traore and his two young sons, Adama and Daoda. The boys are young, perhaps six and four, though we don’t know for sure. We can’t know their ages because no record was made of their birth. Age is of little concern to the people of Mali just as time is not measured in hours and days but by rainy seasons and by dry seasons. In any case, there is Sungala and his two young sons. Each one of them has an eighteen inch tool called a Daba. It is a short hoe-like tool they use to chop the earth and till the soil. The rainy season, hopefully is approaching, and the fields must be prepared for cultivation. Hour after hour, they bend toward the earth chopping and pounding and gradually making progress. The little one, the three or four year old, works as hard as his brother and father! One wonders if life will ever grant him something more than a continuous quest for food. What a challenging existence for a little child!
The men of Mali are farmers. The Daba is the main farm implement. By hand, using the Daba, they plow, they sow, they weed, they harvest. Year after year, generation after generation, century after century it has been the same in Mali! Think about it next time you open your refrigerator, go to the supermarket, or stop at your favorite restaurant. Let your thoughts turn to the men . . . and the little boys of Mali next time you fire up your lawnmower, your mechanized edger, or your snow blower.
I could go on. My intent is not to make us feel guilty about our abundant lives, but to awaken us to a renewed appreciation for what we have, who we are and where we are. Isn’t it wonderful that later today we’ll sit down to a delicious multi-course meal with all of the trimmings? Isn’t it a blessing that we have plenty of running water, large comfortable homes to shelter us from the elements, beautiful lawns and colorful gardens, automobiles to haul us around, plates and utensils for eating, clothes to wear and shoes to protect our feet and appliances of convenience like stoves, mixers and refrigerators.
You should know that since those early days of the Utah Ouelessebougou Alliance, significant progress has been made in certain areas of Mali. Life in many ways IS improving. Some of you, mostly likely, have donated individually, or through organizations with which you’re associated to the effort to improve life in the villages of Ouelessebougou.
Again, my purpose in offering these images from a journey taken years ago is not to make us feel guilty, but hopefully to stir feelings of appreciation and deep gratitude for what we have. We should never take our privileged circumstances for granted just as I hope and pray our family will never take for granted my son Paul’s growing fingernails.
Gratitude for Freedom
Let’s turn for a few minutes to another aspect of our lives that we sometimes have a tendency to take for granted and yet is absolutely essential to the blessings and overwhelming material abundance that we enjoy in this community, state and nation. I speak of freedom, particularly the kind of political freedom that allows for the blossoming of individual talents and collective excellence.
In August, 1991, Margaret and I were on vacation in Russia. Our itinerary included a cruise down the Volga River from Moscow to Leningrad. It was an invigorating time to take such a journey. Great changes were occurring in the political make up of that part of the world. Institutional communism had essentially collapsed at break-neck speed through the fall of 1989 as a revolutionary wave swept through Eastern Europe. The tearing down of the Berlin Wall symbolized what was happening. That was 20-years ago this month.
On our vacation journey not long after those stunning and momentous, and totally unexpected events, we found ourselves cruising toward Leningrad when we received word that communist hardliners were attempting to take control of the country from Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev. Needless to say, we worried for our safety. The uncertainty and fluidity of the situation had all of us deeply concerned, yet as events unfolded it became another of those life-enriching experiences for which we will always be grateful.
After a restless night on our cruise ship, and as we approached the dock in Leningrad, what we witnessed allayed some of our concerns. Though the Soviet Union was in turmoil, there on the dock to greet us was a brass band . . . and the song they were playing: “God Bless America.” It seemed they wanted to make us feel welcomed.
After a lot of discussion by those responsible for our tour, it was decided that the situation in Leningrad was stable enough that we could go ahead with our bus tour of the city. 15 or 20 minutes into that tour, the bus Margaret and I were on approached Hermitage Square, where we saw tens of thousands of people gathered for what appeared to be a demonstration. The journalist in me overwhelmed the tourist side of me and armed with a small borrowed camcorder, and much to Margaret’s dismay, I jumped off the bus and proceeded to go to work to document the story of the rebirth of freedom in Russia. I later learned I was the only western journalist in Leningrad at the time. My reporting received widespread attention.
Let me try to paint a verbal image. There on the square where the Bolshevik Revolution was launched in 1917 were tens of thousands of Russians demonstrating in support of the reforms recently implemented by Gorbachev. And they did it in the face of some danger, for lining the streets approaching the square were scores of military transport vehicles filled with armed soldiers awaiting the word to march in and clear the square.
More could be said of what we witnessed at that location, but move with me, if you will, to another of the great public squares in Leningrad – or St. Petersburg as it is now. We had heard that much was also going on in St. Isaac’s Square, so I made my way there to witness something most remarkable. It was as if the good freedom-longing citizens of that magnificent historic city were preparing for war. Each street leading to the square reminded me of the famous barricade scene of Les Miserable, for the citizens had erected crude barricades from whatever they could find – desks, mattresses, and chairs . . . and whatever else they could carry from surrounding buildings. It was their intent, if needed, to stand up to any government troops sent their way, as futile as it would be.
What I will never forget, though, were the small groups of men marching through the square in a form of short-order drill, in traditional military fashion. I walked up to one of the groups with my camera rolling and shouted: “Does anyone speak English?” One man said yes and broke from the ranks to speak with me.
“We are training and preparing to fight,” he replied.
“But you have no weapons,” I said.
And I’ll always remember the look in his eyes and the fire in his voice as he said pumping his fists, “But I have these and I will fight.”
“What are you fighting for,” I queried.
His reply was forthright and powerful. He said simply, “Freedom.”
It was a stunning, reflective moment. Here were a people who had been oppressed for decades, but who recently had tasted the sweet opportunity of freedom and they didn’t want to lose it. They were willing to put their lives on the line to preserve what they had just begun to experience.
So what does this have to do with us on this Thanksgiving day?
Sometimes as a people, I fear, we become complacent about the freedom we have enjoyed in this nation for the past 233 years. It is another of those aspects of our lives that we tend to take for granted. Of particular concern is the trend toward secularism that engulfs our nation and a growing reticence to acknowledge the Providential and spiritual underpinnings of what the Founders gave us in 1776 and beyond.
I fear the consequences if we get to the point in this nation when we have become so dramatically secularized that a majority of the citizens no longer acknowledge the hand of God in the nation’s establishment, and turn from thanking Him profusely for the freedom and abundance we enjoy.
We must never forget, as George Washington proclaimed in 1789 “to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.”
Let that be a part of our prayers of thanksgiving later today.
Gratitude for Family
Let’s turn now to another aspect of our lives that we too often take for granted, and I speak of those who are nearest and dearest to us – our families. I’ll beg your indulgence in allowing me to become a bit personal here. I do it only because Stan Parish suggested that I do.
Our family has had a rather stressful year. In saying that, I realize that most families face a steady stream of challenges in one way or another, and that others have experienced things far more traumatic than us. I empathize with whatever it may be that you and yours are struggling with. At the same time, I firmly believe there are great, powerful and overwhelming blessings that come through the crucible of adversity . . . and the burdens associated with those challenges can be lessened dramatically through acknowledging those many blessings, focusing on their presence in our lives and by regularly offering genuine expressions of gratitude and thanksgiving to God for them.
Of course, it is difficult, if not impossible to say that our son Brian’s tragic death in June was a blessing. The way it happened, the publicity it generated and the grief it caused are anything but blessed. It was especially difficult for his young widow and his two-year-old daughter. But then I think of the blessings that have filled our lives since that sad day, and my soul is overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude for the reality of a loving God who doesn’t desert His children in times of trial.
Photo: Dad holding my brother's baby girl Bella Aspen Cardall
-Without Brian’s death we never would have experienced the overwhelming outpouring of love and support we felt from extended family, neighbors, friends, colleagues and many, many strangers. Through cards, emails, phone calls and visits we learned how broad our circle of loving support is . . . something I never would have expected or anticipated. What a blessing!
-Through Brian’s death our family coalesced and unified in ways that likely never would have occurred otherwise. As a father, I will always be grateful for the tender expressions of love that I observed being shared by his siblings and their children, my grandchildren. What a blessing!
-With his death, I came to realize that I had taken many of my son’s accomplishments for granted. Through heartfelt eulogies, tributes and other less formal expressions, I learned of his extraordinarily keen intellect and the monumental contributions he was making as an innovative scientist toward improving our world. What a blessing to have that knowledge.
Photo: Hitting a bucket of balls a few days ago with my dad
-Through Brian’s death, our family gained renewed understanding that mortality is indeed fleeting, and that we are all part of some “great eternal plan.” It gave us special appreciation for what happened on Calvary and for the promise of life beyond this mortal realm, as evidenced by the empty tomb. What a blessing!
-Most certainly among the blessings we count, is the presence of Brian’s little daughter, born three months after his death. Through her, we have an extension of him, and that is a blessing for which we will be forever grateful.
I want you to know that where God taketh, he also giveth. One of the reasons our expression of gratitude this thanksgiving will be overflowing is because of the miraculous extension of life of our oldest son, Paul. I told you about his fingernails. As we approached his heart transplant in September, and because of the severity and complexity of his congenital heart defect, we were fully prepared for Paul to be in the hospital for a month or two following his surgery. In fact, the medical team suggested we would be fortunate to have him home by Thanksgiving. Yet, he was released from the hospital just two weeks following surgery and his recovery is proceeding at a remarkably accelerated rate. He is hiking and biking and playing vigorously with his four-year-old daughter. The other day he and I went and hit a bucket of golf balls. He’s back at work as a creative musician and recording artist preparing for his “Celebration of Life” concert at Abravanel Hall in February.
May I witness to you in all humility that miracles do occur! They are real and remarkable and resoundingly wonderful.
Never cease to give God thanks for such providential involvement in the affairs of man. Never take for granted the presence of loved ones in our lives, nor the freedoms that abound in our lives, and have a constant, unwavering attitude of gratitude for the material abundance that so dramatically distinguishes our lives from 90-percent of the people living on this earth today.
Consciously “counting our many blessings” as the song says, and expressing gratitude for them can be remarkably therapeutic. The offering of a genuine prayer of thanksgiving tends to take our mind off of our personal woes and allows us to focus more positively on those things in our lives that are uplifting and good and beneficial. Moreover, it puts us in a state of mind to reach out more consistently to others who may be in need of having their burdens lightened.
Photo: My father putting his arm around his grandson Colby Child after his team experienced an upsetting loss in the finals.
In closing, I’ve been thinking of an experience I had some years ago when I traveled to England to document the first foreign journey of President Gordon B. Hinckley after he became President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In the course of that weeklong adventure, we went to a village north of Preston for a brief visit with one of President Hinckley’s former missionary companions. It was delightful to watch those two old friends reminisce about days gone by.
As we were about to leave, Bob Pickles said to Gordon Hinckley, “I don’t know how you do it, all of this travel and activity at your age,” I’ll always remember President Hinckley’s reply. “I’ll tell you what you do Bob. You go to bed each night, but you be sure to get up in the morning.”
“That’s what it is,” replied Gordon.
And may I add, that when you go to bed each night offer up prayers of gratitude for all that you’ve been given . . . and be sure to get up the next morning with an eye to doing good and enjoying the profound and unceasing blessings of a new day.