We read somewhere that the Pilgrims survived on a few kernels of corn and were thankful, so we settled on an exquisite Thanksgiving torture wherein we set bowls of steaming, buttered, gravy-addled food in front of our children who have been begging to be fed for hours, and make them name their blessings before they can eat. One blessing for each kernel surreptitiously placed on your plate while you were hovering about the stove threatening to die if you didn’t get a spoonful of mashed potatoes right now.

We go round the table, blessing after blessing, until the kernels are gone. My oldest is thankful for his “mad beatbox skills.” I was not aware of these skills, and for this I am quietly thankful. His little brother is thankful for the stuffed lamb with whose paw he sometimes strokes his cheek when he is heartsick. Another gives thanks for his mother, which prompts the next to give thanks for me.

The youngest exclaims that everybody took all the good stuff. His brother tells him to be thankful for clean water. He grumbles thanks for water.

Around we go, naming the sky, the candles, the turkey. My children have no sense of proportion; they cast blessings great and small into the circle as if they are equal. They remind me that grace lingers in the smallest things — an apple’s sweetness, a restless child’s squirming, candle light reflected off window panes that restrain the gathering darkness.

When I hold the last kernel, though many blessings have been named, I am only beginning. I am only beginning, for I need to name their squabbles and their expectant upturned faces, their groaning at vegetables, and their falling out of chairs. These blessings rain down and I have not breath to name them all, which is why our deepest prayers are wordless.

Tony Woodlief is an occasional contributor. You can find more of his writing at


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