As the year winds down, and the holidays approach, we are reminded that this is the season to be grateful and giving. It is the season in which we seek to return to those we love, the gift of their presence in our lives. It is a season where we recognize the role that family and friends play in our lives and we celebrate our times with them in cheer.
But there is a special thank you we should recognize and celebrate as the year draws to a close and we look back at all that we have accomplished. And that is the rare and perpetual thank you to the sacrifice and guidance of those that came before us. Those people who gave up something of themselves, or something of what they could have had, in order to see us succeed.
It is because of those people that came before us – those parents and grandparents, aunts or uncles. Those friends that become family and the family that is more like friends. Those heroes of our lives who braved the storms of raising us or walking with us or saving us from the worst of ourselves while bringing out the best in us – those people sacrificed for us and put us on a path towards our greatness.
For what would we be without them in our lives? Without those blazers of trails. Without those takers of wounds and those fighters of fools. Without those shoulders we have cried upon and those footsteps we have followed?
As Isaac Newton once said;
“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
And that is what we must be thankful for in those that came before us. We must be thankful for their sacrifices and for letting us see further by standing atop their weary shoulders.
The recognition of the people who came before us is something that we often forget in our haste to push past what they accomplished. We know that we can accomplish more – that we should accomplish more – because of the contributions of the people that came before us. That is the hidden gift given to us by those that helped us build our lives.
And though you may think that those that came before you sacrificed nothing to see you succeed, I ask you to take a closer look. See the wrinkles that tease the corners of their eyes and the tired that fades to exhaustion behind the color? That is the worry they carried for you when you were making a mess of your life and they could do nothing but sit and watch. See the hitch in their step from the crook of their back that leans them over like wilted flowers? That is the burden of a thousand small hopes that they carried for you when the world would rather you have none.
I beg you to look closer at those people that came before and see what they might have given to you to ensure you would succeed. Because you don’t always see the calluses or scars on the people who made you possible until you get real close – until you pull them in for an embrace and whisper a thank you in their ears. Only then do you feel the leather of their hearts, so strong and tight and ready to burst at having carried so much weight for us over the years.
Me, I recognize my mother for carrying much of my early burdens for me, and who still aches to carry my present ones despite the basket of her own. She has been the greatest champion through my life and she outfitted me with weapons and armor to survive a painfully diminishing world. I owe her more than just my thanks. I owe her a heart that keeps on loving and a mind immune to breaking.
I am eternally grateful for that giant of a woman who allowed me to stand atop her shoulders. And despite the etchings of hurt I have engraved onto her heart, my hope is that I have left something of my love and accomplishment in there to fill those marks I made and make her glow with something akin to pride. Like the Japanese practice of Kintsugi, I hope that the cracks of pain I created can be filled with the gold of my success, to which I owe to her above all others.
I recognize my uncle. And though he is gone from this world it is from him that I learned the lessons of manhood that I carried to adulthood. It is to him that my son owes his gratitude as well, because without the instruction of my uncle I would not have been able to properly carry the responsibility of fatherhood. I would not have known what it was in a man that is capable of tenderness and love.
I recognize my sisters who look to me for guidance but often ended up guiding me. Through our shared suffering in the early years and through our shared resilience in our later ones, they pushed me hard to be a man who could take the place of the father we never had. And though I still often fall short of perfect, brotherly love, I know that the expectation in their eyes has a way of steering me forward and pushing me towards more.
I recognize my friends, the ones that call me out on my bullshit. The ones that walk beside me when I am a weak and aching and living less than what I should. They never let me falter and always hold me up to a light I sometimes can not see.
And maybe you honestly didn’t have anyone like this. Maybe your whole life you carried yourself and you were the one who got broken on the rocks by trying to find your way in this world. If that is that case, then thank yourself for how far you have come, with how little you had to work with and forgive yourself for the mistakes you made along the way. You were too small and too fragile and too helpless be able to save yourself from all the pain.
It’s ok though.
You grew up. You are more now. You became strong and you stopped being afraid of the storms that life threw at you to stop you from finding your way and you became the giant that will have the shoulders for future generations to stand.
So I ask you to take this time, as gifts are given and cheer is spread, to look deeper at those people who came before you in your life. All that people that surround your life. Do not see in them what is external, but look far inside their souls. Find that place in their heart that beats for you and give it softly the peace and gratitude it needs and deserves by lifting them up upon your now lofty shoulders so that they can see what heights they helped you reach. Show them the world you were able to create because they were their to help you imagine it.
Do not let this day pass – this hour, this minute, this second – without giving your love and thanks to the giants of your lives whose shoulders you stood upon in order to find your way.