I was glad that I had done my homework. It helped whenever tensions arose. It was a safeguard against the temptation of contributing to the problem, and even against unintentionally causing problems through careless remarks. The preparations made me mentally ready to help defuse some tensions as they arose during the course of conversation. I'd recommend this kind of "thankful list" as preparation to anyone who attends family gatherings, and especially if tension is common.
The notes on my "thankful list" are short because I wrote them on an index card. I read the card just before leaving home, and then again right before I went into the host's home. Though the notes are short, for some people I could have easily made a long list of reasons I was thankful for them. For most, I could have listed more reasons than I put on the card.
- Always there for his children
- Stood by her husband through thick and thin (for 2 people)
- Has never said an unkind word to me
- Is a delight to her father
- Never gave up, and kept trying and trying again, through some long and dark years
- Kind to her dogs
- Kind to her neighbor
- Can speak her mind with good-humor and tact
- A good and steadfast friend to his friends
Every conversation has its subtext -- the unspoken things that are the background and reason for what is spoken aloud. While it would have been awkward to say those "Thanksgiving Challenge" thoughts aloud, it helped to have those thoughts in mind as the subtext behind my own comments. I think, in its own small way, it helped the general tone of the conversation.
Another benefit, though slightly sadder: some of the older people in attendance had lost health to a startling degree in the time since I last saw them. (This is especially so for some "friends of the family" of the host's family, that I may see only once or twice a year.) It was good to know in advance why I was thankful for them, when poor health did not permit them to be their usual selves this year. It enabled me to treat them with the respect that they had earned during their years of fuller health. Honest respect can take away the sting of needing help.