CASTINE, MAINE — I appreciate a nation that would make a holiday that focuses us on gratitude and home. It's rare in this day and age to have so many people pausing with humility for simple, soulful things.
We should do it more often! Gratitude is powerful, the core of the great experiences of literature, in addition to many religious traditions. I even think of gratitude as a kind of home, less a place and more a pattern of experience awaiting us even in unfamiliar places and people, if we're perceptive. Sure, it's the usual scenes of kith and kin we associate with Thanksgiving, but its essence turns up unexpectedly, perhaps as the smell of buttered toast, steam heat, Ivory soap, or burning leaves. It can also be the creaking stair, the sound of a particular kettle, a favorite Beatles album, or the heavy clank of a front-door latch.
Or gratitude can be found in a welcoming voice. For every literary prodigal or pilgrim who journeys away from home, there is also the son who stays put; perhaps they are two parts of the same journey. Both sons must learn that they have their father's blessing, and staying at home to learn that "all that I have is thine" may be a long journey, too.
I like a scene in "Nicholas Nickleby," by Charles Dickens, that brings this point home. Toward the end of the saga, Nicholas asks Smike, a devoted, crippled waif whom Nickleby has rescued from oppression at Dotheboys Hall, if he would like to go home. Indeed, where is home for Smike, he wonders. Where does he feel from? "You are my home," replies Smike, who has attached himself to the goodness in Nicholas, the gentle love and generosity to which we all turn quite naturally for its intimations of home.
This is what we most fundamentally feel from, and when found, it feels as if it's where we've always been - and we feel grateful for the discovery. Gratitude makes any day Thanksgiving.
• Todd R. Nelson is a school principal.