Kerns: A Thanksgiving story



Bryan Kerns

Thanksgiving is a curious thing. Established at Plymouth and continued long after the Mayflower descendants convened for the first time, Thanksgiving has become an American holiday steeped in tradition.

We are called to give thanks for what we have, but how many Americans actually live up to that mandate?

Consider an American family.

Grandfather haughtily rambles about the downfall of Western civilization since none of his offspring have quite lived up to his standards. Grandmother has long since been exiled from this bastion of country club conservatism in divorce. At dinner, the new wife wears the shade of pink best accenting her jewelry. The venue is their suburban manor – quintessential old money.

Grandfather’s three children and their families converge from the far corners of the country, giving thanks that their flights weren’t delayed and peppering each other with narratives about how they catapulted over the traveling public into first class.

For the oldest, like his father, Yale was a good beginning. Investment banking is always a worthwhile career for a dynastic scion. His children, undistinguished by family standards, quite often incur their father’s disapproval. Their mother, a first-rate socialite, is the only one who can pacify her husband, and she often does, especially around his father.

Dinner commences, and the second son summons his tykes to the table. He has several, all young and all precocious, the gleam of their father’s eye. His wife is a working mom, a top-level exec for a major corporation. Her husband is the stay-at-home dad and teaches an occasional class at the local university. Grandfather is worried by this capitulation of the patriarchal privileges conferred on Yale men but is willing to entertain it, since these grandchildren are clearly his favorites.

Conspicuously absent from the meal is Grandfather’s youngest child – his daughter. This firebrand spurned her family’s multi-generational Yale legacy for a small liberal arts college, followed by Harvard Medical School.

Despite this treason, she is her father’s daughter – strong-willed, arrogant and brilliant. A world-class neurosurgeon, she is likely to marry someone equal to her in the social strata.

Conversation in the cavernous dining room is mostly this self-absorbed, pretentious family talking about themselves. Grandfather unexpectedly begins musing about his longtime driver’s family problems. The family gives thanks for what they have relative to what the driver doesn’t.

While the vanity and pretense seem to have disappeared, in reality, it is yet another form of self-indulgence.

Self-indulgence, like Thanksgiving, is a curious thing. It is more dangerous than not giving thanks at all. Engaging in it further rationalizes this family’s already entrenched, uppity affect. The driver’s problems are one more reason that they should be happy they’re all filthy rich.

Given the tremendous wealth this family enjoys, it only made sense that they would establish a foundation for tax purposes. Long dormant, the family’s other activities have precluded them from giving it the attention it deserved.

The middle son, always the most progressive of them all, capitalizes on this opportunity to bring his family into the realm of philanthropy. He suggests to his father that they might use that foundation to help the driver and other people in his plight. Its endowment, he offers, could help his sister’s hospital’s clinic.

His older brother proffers a counterargument about financial risk, which his father, convinced by the younger son’s plea, deems to be minimal. The poor bloke has again been defeated, and self-indulgence has yielded to philanthropy.

Campus Ministry presented some statistics for Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week: If the world were 100 people, 23 of them would live on less than $1 a day, and 39 would live without decent sanitation. Most troubling of all: one in 10 households in the United States lives with hunger or at risk of hunger.

On the other hand, we Villanovans are a pretty privileged bunch. We’ve got a brand new athletic facility and a lot of other multi-million dollar buildings in the works.

The family described above may even resemble some part of our own families. At the end of the day, that fictionalized family didn’t just talk about what they had – they put it into action.

Thanksgiving is a curious thing in this country. We may give thanks for what we have in the finest tradition of the descendants of the Mayflower, but giving thanks is only so much.

The next step is to use what we have to help those who don’t.


Bryan Kerns is a freshman from Drexel Hill, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected].