Braydon Prokop, a participant in the MakerSpace DIY Holiday Cards program offered recently at the Albany-Springfield branch of the Livingston Parish Library System, lit up the turkey on the Thanksgiving card he created using simple circuitry based on thin copper tape, a small battery and tiny light bulbs that are incorporated into the card’s design.

For many years, our family has lived on a city lot circled by oaks and pines, sycamores and hackberries, hollies and a thicket of bamboo. Hemmed in by a horizon of branches and leaves, we've often felt left to ourselves.

This year, we removed a few problem trees, something some of our neighbors have done too. Hurricane Ida did a little thinning work of her own, so the canopy of green that’s defined my days isn’t quite as thick as it used to be.

Danny Heitman's 'At Random': Fall means a great time to read outside

We can hear more street traffic now, and there isn’t so strong a feeling when I sit in the yard that the world is at bay. Now, when I glance upward, I more easily see the rooftops of those around me.

But the opening of the tree line hasn’t been all bad. For one thing, it’s usefully underlined for me that we live within a larger neighborhood, one that’s sustained us through some rough patches. I’m counting that blessing as another Thanksgiving approaches.

The biggest reason for gratitude this holiday is the easing of the pandemic. Last year’s lockdowns forced us inward, prompting us to find reserves of personal strength we might not have known before.

Danny Heitman's 'At Random': When I needed him most, my high school principal championed my life

Along with this newfound resilience was the occasional illusion of independence, a sense that with our Netflix and delivered groceries, we really didn’t need anyone else. But the commerce and public services that kept us afloat didn’t flow from the ether; real people made them possible. If there’s been any silver lining in this season’s snarled supply chain, it’s the deep reminder that abundance isn’t a dry abstraction. Our horn of plenty depends on a network of relationships, the work of hands easy to ignore.

Where To Go, What To Eat

Each week we'll highlights the best eats and events in metro Baton Rouge. Sign up today.

In this part of the country, hurricanes are another occasion for humility, which is the beginning of all true gratitude. This summer, I talked to my neighbors more in the days before and after Ida than I usually do in the course of a year. Hard times have a way of bringing people together, as the story at the heart of Thanksgiving reveals.

Danny Heitman's 'At Random': A hurricane tale for Halloween

As a child, I often wondered how the Pilgrims we honored in school plays could find so much fellowship on the frozen frontier. I now understand that they didn’t band together in spite of their adversities but because of them.

It’s a reality we’ve routinely experienced in Louisiana as residents help each other endure epic storms. That’s a reason for gratitude, a gesture I once regarded as our blandest virtue. How much sacrifice, after all, is involved in saying, “thank you?"

But with age has come the growing idea that gratitude, properly embraced, is really an acknowledgment of debt. If others have helped us, what’s our obligation to pay it forward?

A true giving of thanks, I suppose, might involve connecting with my neighbors even when there are no storms on our doorstep.


Email Danny Heitman at