Thursday, November 26, 2009

Gratitude with Latitude: Giving Thanks for Curmudgeons and Other Realists

I think by now most of us realize that the historical reality behind the Pilgrim Myth is one of the many horrifying chapters lurking in this country's past. It would probably be best to give thanks on any day other than the one that celebrates the theft and ongoing brutality perpetrated by our Anglo-Saxon founders against the indigenous people of this continent. But I'll save that rant for another day (lucky you).

So how does a non-theistic, peace- and compassion- loving, politically progressive realist come to terms with "Thanksgiving"?

The answer, for me, is to attempt to remember how fortunate I am as much of the time as possible. I can't compress all of my gratitude into a sentence or two; I can't remember all of my blessings at once; I can't will myself into a state of thankfulness on this one day. The reality is that there are so many aspects of my life that inspire gratitude that I can't contain them, nor would I want to do so.

There is a constant ebb and flow of opposites in our lives: good days and bad days, income and expenses, joy and anger, friends and enemies. It is easy to feel grateful when things are going "my way". But remembering my good fortune when things are falling apart is the real challenge and, I would argue, far more important in the big picture. Do we only feel love for our fellow creatures on Christmas or New Year's or (insert holiday of your choice)? Of course not. We need love, gratitude and (I would argue) compassion to be our constant companions, as difficult a goal as that may be.

A couple of years ago I listed many of the things I felt grateful for at that time. Today I am deliberately omitting this ritual. Reciting my private list of "gratitudes" would not be an act of thankfulness on this day, this year. Saying thank you out loud for specific people or things doesn't make me any more or less thankful - right now it would feel cheap and inauthentic to do so.

Much like the rigorously enforced nationalism of the 4th of July, there is a palpable social pressure to perform public pronouncements of gratitude on Thanksgiving Day. I would argue that we'd be far better off to spread the good vibe year-round rather than use it all up at one dinner.