Like most Americans, I am preparing for Thanksgiving this Thursday.
Like most holidays, the origins of Thanksgiving are dubious at best. What was meant as a show of decency between equals turned into a precursor for one of the worst exterminations in world history. Even today, looking at how Thanksgiving is celebrated, we see plenty of evidence of the cultural appropriation and rampant racism from which it spawned. The purpose at times for holiday itself has changed, shifting from an alternative form of Christmas to a secular day of gratitude to an observance of a questionable historical event.
I personally prefer the day of general gratitude. The days seem to be getting on the dark side, what with Nazis marching in the streets and child molesters and sexual assaulters being praised for political gain. As the war against the environment and the people in genera intensifies, I think it’s important to take a look at all we have. If you’re reading this, that means you have electricity, access to the internet, and benefited from an education that taught you out to read English. That’s not a bad start right there.
I disdain efforts to use thanks as some sort of way to wash away our struggles. You can be grateful for a thing and also recognize the struggle with that thing. You can be grateful for the health you have, even as you deal with a chronic illness. You can be grateful for parents, even if they weren’t the best. You can be grateful for a job and still put out ten job applications a day. Saying ‘I’m glad I had/have this in my life’ doesn’t mean you have to accept it as some kind of standard. Gratitude isn’t a binary, yes-no sort of deal.
You also don’t need to lower the bar to be grateful. ‘Hey, at least you weren’t born into slavery’. Being grateful a bad thing didn’t happen isn’t the same thing, and the two should not be confused (though observing both isn’t a bad idea). Trying to create some fanciful list of all the things that could have gone wrong and didn’t is a bizarre proposal. You could fill a computer’s hard drive just for saying thanks for every time a cell divided and you didn’t get cancer.
Sometimes, that which we need to show thanks for is of our own doing. You can say thank you to yourself. Be thankful you had the fortitude to stick it out this year, a year of such exhausting horror. Be thankful that you were able to hang on, or maybe even crawl forward.
As you list the things for which you are grateful, it can help to make a list of the times you were aided by someone. The harder you think about things, you’ll recall moments – big and small – where someone did something good for you. Boss stuck up for you at work, doctor waived a copay expense, register person at the grocery store made you laugh on a rotten day. Whatever it was, somebody’s actions had a positive impact on your life. Make out that list. Who did what for you, for which you are grateful?
Before next Thanksgiving, try to outdo that list. Before this time next year, try to do something for others who will put your actions on their list. Assure the fast food worker who is rushing to fix your screwed-up order that it’s fine, it happens. Tell a janitor they’re doing a great job, and you like how nice everything looks. Stick up for your coworkers and subordinates at work. Heck, call the comment hotline that every business asks you to do (and we all ignore), just to praise the worker who did their job. Let people in front of you in traffic.
The world is made up of a thousand, billion interactions every second. Thanksgiving is the holiday that we can look back at all the interactions and events we can remember and say ‘glad it went that way’. And going forward, try to help more people be glad things went the way they did.