Cherie and I were shopping the other day in a store that was so crowded that we had to wait our turn to go down an aisle. Our shopping cart got fuller and fuller until it was mounded up on the top. We got to the check-out register and the bill was huge, and walking out to the truck Cherie said, “I get grumpy when I have to go anywhere to buy anything on a holiday week, but you know, we could pay for our purchases and not have to worry about not having any money.”
Thanksgiving is upon us, and for many of us that means full-scale-panic-and-all-out-dread. Families get together for better or worse. Money is tight. Food is scarce. The heat of emotional tensions rise like the turkeys baking in ovens across America, and tempers flare. Happy Thanksgiving!
Thanksgiving is not, as many think, a religious holiday. It is a national holiday. It is in remembrance of a hard time in our history when the end had seemed near for our lives and our dreams, and against all odds, we pulled it off and survived.
In ancient bible times, thanksgiving was a religious act. It was a celebrative offering offered in the Temple. It was not for the maintenance of either Temple or priests, but a just-because offering that was burnt and not used. Try that in our churches. Give us money so we can burn it! I don’t think so. And yet, thanksgiving should be a central part of our lives here in America. It seems to me that we as a nation have gone from jubilant thanksgiving to whining and carping, and I don’t know why.
Thanksgiving, or the act of giving thanks, is actually not about anything outside of ourselves. I don’t think our giving any offering of thanks makes or breaks God’s day, heals the wounded, stops war, raises the dead, secures the economy, or whatever. I will say that giving thanks may have outward effects, but that’s not what thanksgiving is actually about. It is about us as individual persons.
Yes, giving thanks helps us. It positions our minds and arranges our thinking in ways that are anti-depressive, and physically and psychologically healthy for us.
Our nation is at war, and the war has stretched on for so long it is losing its meaning. We are sacrificing our young and the future leadership of our nation, in a blood offering to a god of security that most of us wouldn’t recognize, but seems bloodthirsty and real nonetheless. We are in what is euphemistically referred to as a recession, but for all intents and purposes it a major depression with its attendant trauma and requisite suicides. Loved ones and babies die senselessly and too young. Violence stalks our streets like a marauding beast. Drugs addiction has taken on pandemic proportions. If we haven’t lost our job, someone we know has lost a job and/or their home. We feel overwhelmed by tragedy, and have every logical reason to be grouchy, grumpy, and with nothing for which to be grateful. WOW, are things ever bad!
And yet is it so? I remember walking down Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley many years ago and overhearing a conversation between several homeless people and this skinny, tall man who was saying as I passed: “So, as I stepped off this curb, I happened to look down, and there was a ten dollar bill. You know, He always takes care of me when I need it most.” Stopped me cold. A broke, homeless, street person, being thankful for a measly ten dollar bill? And while I don’t see the deity as a He or She or in any way similar to the way the old-time religion understood deity, I recognize that there are things for which I need to be thankful.
My suggestion for this Thanksgiving Season, and for the Holidays and maybe for the rest of our lives, is that we find little things for which to be grateful, and for which we can give thanks. It’s good for us on so many levels. We do not need to believe, thank, or include some deity in whom/which we don’t/won’t/can’t believe, but we do need to step out of a life where good is perceived as scarce and into a life where good is comprehended as plentiful–and we do this through giving thanks to whoever, whatever, but by giving thanks.
I believe that no matter how bad or grim or painful our circumstances are if we search diligently for anything at all for which we can give thanks, we will find it and we will be better off as people. I don’t mean to say that by finding ways to be thankful in the midst of our suffering the things that make us suffer will go away–that we will get rich, lose weight, stop being ugly, become a genius, catch more fish, or whatever magical thing we secretly wish for. I do mean that much of our inner turmoil will dissipate and it will gradually get easier to find the good stuffed and hidden way down and mixed up with the awful–and that will gradually change us into better people. Sometimes we can’t change anything but our own reactions, but that in itself is a change for the good.
The next time you find yourself complaining, try to find something that is good for which to give thanks. I’m going to do my best to try it. H