It’s one of those special memories that I look back upon and cherish, with just a hint of mystery. The year was 2001, and we were visiting my old hometown, Santa Barbara. After attending Mass at Mission Santa Barbara, we headed to the Four Seasons, renowned for its Sunday Brunch. It was the perfect place for the family to enjoy a bite to eat.
My wife and I had planned this trip for months, timed perfectly to match the holidays. And why not? Santa Barbara almost always has perfect weather this time of year, and it’s an excellent opportunity to escape the East Coast cold.
The Biltmore did not disappoint; laid out before us was a sumptuous display of the most beautiful breakfast treats, from the freshest seafood to traditional eggs with all the trimmings. My favorites are the Pacific catch, from salmon to shrimp to oysters. I had them all. But first, a round of mimosa (orange juice and Champaign) to get things started. The food and setting were perfection, a treat for all the senses.
We languished at brunch for hours, bantering back and forth, mesmerized by the sheer beauty of it all. But, like all good things, this, too, would end. I asked for the check. “No check,” said our Waitress. Someone has already paid for your brunch. Startled, I responded: “Is there someone I can thank?” “Oh, no,” came the reply, “they prefer to remain anonymous.”
I thanked the Waitress for her outstanding service and asked if she could express my gratitude. “That won’t be possible,” she responded, “they’ve already left.”
So, here I was, basking in the warm glow of one of the most outstanding moments of my life, presented entirely without cost by some generous benefactor whom I will never meet or even know. It is a mystery that has haunted me until this very day. Who was that benefactor? Was it some Hollywood A-list celebrity? Many live in the neighborhood. Or was it perhaps some wealthy Wall Street maven enjoying their West Coast hideaway? The possibilities were endless. It could have been one of dozens of people.
And why were we chosen to be the recipients of their generosity? Yes, my wife and daughter were both beautiful, and we may have presented a fetching image as a family. Are we lucky to have received this gift at the right place and time? Again, the possibilities were endless, and the speculation continued.
We will celebrate such a mystery again on this fourth Thursday in November. The “what” is known. For us on that sparkling Sunday morning, the “what” was the most beautiful brunch I have ever experienced. As a country, the “what” is all the beautiful blessings we enjoy daily throughout the year. As my grandfather would say in his daily prayer: “…food sufficient for our needs, we also ask You for health and strength, to guide and direct us in all our ways.”
The manifold blessings we receive daily rightly deserve our most profound gratitude, our “thanks.”
It’s not a perspective that comes easily today. As a people, we prefer to praise our latest accomplishments and exploits. How we have developed Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Computers, sophisticated Biotechnology, like Gene splicing, and all the future benefits these technological advances will bring to our lives.
A friend of mine is an Astronomy buff; recently, he was explaining the incredible capabilities of this new, advanced space-based telescope. He went into great depth describing the range and clarity of its latest photographs. The Webb Telescope reveals new, here-to-for unseen stars and galaxies, some of which are thought to date back to the beginning of time, the Big Bang.
Today, we live in a time of the most incredible advances in human knowledge, each more astounding than the last. Advances in math, science, biology, and information technology continue daily. So rapid is our current progress that one person cannot keep up. Knowledge is expanding geometrically as one discovery leads to another. Our comprehensive understanding of the “world around us” at both the microscopic and telescopic levels is the most significant ever achieved by humanity.
We can detail, explain, and measure the “what” like never before. But ultimately, we find ourselves in the same place I was at that beautiful Sunday Brunch. My questions revolved not around “what,” but “who?”
I thoroughly understood what had occurred. Someone had gifted my family our brunch. But the question remained: Who?
This Thursday, for the 234th time, this Nation will take the day off to give thanks. The country has participated in this oldest national holiday through war and peace, good times and bad. The most appropriate place to see Who we are thanking is with the original Thanksgiving Proclamation, presented by our first President, George Washington. Although the language may be dated, and the sentiment may seem strange, this is an excellent time to reflect on just “Who” Washington believed we should thank:
“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations 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 — and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public Thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.
Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be — “
George Washington Thanksgiving Proclamation, November, 1789.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!