What? Thanksgiving already?
Even if it feels as if summer just slid into the sunset, no matter. We’re here, and what’s not to like? Of all the holidays, Thanksgiving goes down the easiest, like mashed potatoes or pumpkin pie.
Although the consumer-crazed Black Friday darkly encroaches on Turkey Day sloth, I think I’ll sit that one out. I prefer to remain as antiquated as a handwritten letter, or a face-to-face conversation — while continuing in the blessed illusion this one day remains blessedly free of guilt-induced shopping, insincere gifts, treacly music, $6-a-pop gift cards, flowers, gadgets, excessive sugar, regressive costumes or excessive sentimentality.
Nah, none of that. Just gotta show up for dinner. A little football on TV, maybe a walk through autumn crispness to assuage the remorse soon to come regarding the quantity of food enhaled — and a firm resolve to avoid subjects such as how everyone voted in the recent election, or relatives’ and friends’ recent:
- impending foreclosures
- hazy recollections of childhood slights
- rehab stints
Slam dunk. Eminently doable. Other than after-dinner cleanup duties, nothing much asked, nothing much required.
Of course, you have to get past the often awkward blessing before dinner delivered by a family elder, who hurriedly intones: “Thank you god, if there is a god, for … um … all the food … and for everyone showing up relatively sober … and for the Giants’ second World Series title, wow, wasn’t that something? … and for the undeniable fact I’m better off than the rest of you …”
Though Thanksgiving started as a day of spiritual reflection, that really isn’t on most menus as we prepare to tryptophan the light fantastic into turkeyed bliss.
So, what to make of “thanksgiving” with a small “t?” The past few years have not been easy times. In a world ruled by greed and violence, it’s a stretch, isn’t it, to go deep and go thankful.
Then again, if I’ve learned anything along the road, through the valleys and sloughs, it’s just this: When I am weak, then I am strong. Accepting hard times and loss as opportunities to practice being grateful, I stop being consumed by what others have done — what they have and I don’t — and allow that to be turned inside out, bringing to light the many gifts and blessings that have come my way, despite my own failures.
Life moves so fast, and if my eyes are focused on the past, on what Mr. So-and-So said or did, or what Miss Just-So didn’t do or say, I miss out on something far more important.
What does this have to do with Thanksgiving?Just this. Giving thanks is transforming. It’s a kind of radical thankfulness, tough to practice, but with a huge upside.
Research shows that people who are grateful are more likely to help others in need. And helping others takes me out of the narrow place where resentment and bitterness wants me to dwell.
Gratitude as an attitude leaves a person happier, less stressed, less materialistic, more physically active, more spiritually aware, more humble.
It’s no coincidence people showered with material blessings or gifted with physical beauty or superior talents often remain unsatisfied. Never rich enough. Never young enough. Never successful enough or noticed enough.
Grateful people often have suffered painful losses, or come up short on youthful dreams — and are only too aware of character defects and failures.
And, yes, there’s a spiritual principle at work: In everything, give thanks.
When in doubt, give thanks.
It’s counter intuitive — but then, it’s easy to give thanks when everything seems to be going well.
Much of life is difficult, often disappointing, but gratitude in the face of this says, “I’m making a choice to trust, rather than be fearful.”
It says, “yes,” instead of “no,” invites me to share the promise with others, unleashes inner freedom, peace and the power to overcome the obsessive thought I have to grab more for myself.
It’s the opposite of self-reliance.
So today, I can make a decision to give thanks for:
Being able to even make the choice … to give thanks.
My wife, who has overcome much and gets to give back more.
The gift of daughters, learning these things themselves, including overcoming struggle and disappointment.
Freedom of speech, and the freedom to disagree, even with this essay.
The solitude of late autumn. The blue-red of sunrise. Walking into late November sunsets, the soft fade of the endless horizon and the silvery ocean’s haunting call.
Forgiveness and grace.
Why wouldn’t I be thankful?