As long-term members of the blog will know, I have always said that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I have to admit, as I get older (and older), many of the holidays that were once a significant part of my life – even as an adult – have more or less faded away for me: Fourth of July; Columbus Day; Halloween. I do continue to love Christmas. It’s a period of joy for me still: I love the season as a whole, there’s still an excitement about it, and I’m unusually fond of many things connected with it: Christmas trees, lights, and carols. I especially enjoy the stories and myths of the season, and find the weeks leading up to it very moving. Christmas is increasingly complicated though. The commercialism and greed and lust for useless things just drives me nuts. The absolute need to buy things that others don’t really want or need but expect. Still, despite all that, I try to focus on the good parts.
Thanksgiving on the other hand, for me, is almost entirely good parts. True, like most holidays, there is a lot of pressure on the day, anxiety about making it good, and happy, and memorable. The pressure of the meal that takes many hours to cook – though I love that part – but about a half hour to eat and then hours to clean up. But still, I like the meal part: the foods, the baking, the cooking. I like connecting with family and friends. I especially like it because it is a holiday for everyone and there’s nothing necessarily religious about it.
For many people there is a clear religious component, of course. For them, being thankful means being thankful to the God who provided all these good things we celebrate: love, family, home, togetherness, food. For my part, as a non-theist, I tend to be a thankful person even when there’s no one to thank. I’ve long pondered and considered that to be both ironic and a bit sad. But still, it doesn’t mar the day for me.
That day this year is so different for all of us, and for some of us enormously. The crisis has made life complicated for everyone we know, lonely for untold millions, and devastating for an incredible number. For the vast majority of us this is not the best of times, and many many have so little to be thankful for. So much isolation, loneliness, fear, pain, anxiety, and danger. People wondering how they will get through it and when it will ever end. People in our country hungry for the first time. So many people sick; so many who have lost loved ones forever. It’s an awful time. Yes, to be sure, this too shall pass. But there will be more awful times. Some far worse than this.
How does one stay thankful in all this? I really don’t know. Some of us are just built to be grateful for what we have, even when times are hard. It’s not a virtue, really; it’s a temperament that some people just seem to have. Even so, for most people it is an attitude that – if there’s a seed of it in there somewhere – can be nourished and fostered. Maybe we should do that more — not just when times are good but especially when they are bad. When we find *something* at least we can be thankful for.
My sense is that people who are truly thankful for at least some things in their lives tend to be more humble, honest, approachable, and caring. They tend to be more giving to others, in light of what they are thankful for themselves. They tend to be less self-centered. I’m not obviously talking about the filthy rich who don’t give a damn about anyone else and who congratulate themselves about how great they are. I’m talking about regular ole people who just have a sense of gratitude for whatever good is in their lives. I like people like that.
And I would like to cultivate that attitude more myself. In part, that means recognizing that just about everything we have comes to us. We may *think* we’ve earned it. And often we have indeed had a big role in it. But no one can earn something if they have not been born, raised, and placed in the position that allows them to earn it, and all that pre-earning comes to us from someone/somewhere else. Some of us are just lucky to have been born and raised in the right time and place. Those of us who have been, should acknowledge it and be grateful, considerate, and thankful.
My view is that if thankfulness does not generate kindness, charity, and generosity, it is not real thankfulness. And it is possible to cultivate those parts of ourselves. This Thanksgiving I want to do that, not dwell on how awful it is all around us, but be grateful for what I have and use that gratefulness to help me become a better person, for both my own sake and for others around me.
For those of us who have lots to be thankful for, I hope we can express it to others this Thanksgiving, and do something to help make this year’s Thanksgiving a time to help others be thankful. For those who have little or nothing to be thankful for, I’m afraid I have no advice. But I do hope you can find something in your life that is good, that you can focus on it for a brief time, and by doing so stoke that little thankfulness into hope for better things to come. I do hope they come for you.
Happy Thanksgiving y’all.