He participated in all the Thanksgiving family gatherings. While he would politely discuss his unbelief at other times, he always refrained from such discussions during the holidays. But I would see a slight change come over him during these times. It wasn’t anger or irritation I saw… the best I can describe it is a look of loneliness, or perhaps emptiness. This was very uncharacteristic of him at other times.
I once asked my grandmother if grandpa was OK, she replied that the holidays can be difficult for someone “who thinks like your grandpa”. Grandpa’s silent struggle at Thanksgiving actually caused me to think more about God than I normally would on any other occasion. The coldness of God’s absence from his life on days set aside to celebrate His presence moved me. To believe there is no God to thank for all of this seemed so awkward to me, so… empty. All this was going on in the mind of a boy who claimed no religion.
My grandfather’s atheism on Thanksgiving inclined me to sort of let God in… and He did come in… I haven’t spent a Thanksgiving without God in my life for almost forty years. But if my grandchildren ever see a change come over me on Thanksgiving day, it is not an empty loneliness they will see, but sadness at the memory of my Grandfather who never experienced the warmth of a real Thanksgiving. Strangely it was his emptiness that pushed me toward God. God is always at work… even where atheists dwell. And I am thankful.