thanksgiving is a strange holiday. somehow it has become about watching football and gorging ourselves and then laying around lazily. damn tryptophan. somehow it celebrates our unity with the indians and how they gave to us, conveniently forgetting what we later gave them in return. somehow it has become a party to celebrate all that we have while the rest of the world struggles to just get by, while so many don't have anything or even food for the day. we throw ourselves a big party and revel in our consumption that is entirely unhealthy and selfish. yet it's ok because we feel good about it because we're thankful for it. that makes it a good thing then of course.
thanksgiving is a strange holiday. it, perhaps you might think, would be the most impervious to commercialization and americanization--which might be a strange thing to say since it is a distinctly american holiday. what i mean by that is that somehow we make every holiday all about us. ok maybe not entirely, but at least to some extent. and you would think that this would be hard to do to a holiday that has "thanks" in its name. we have found a way.
what is it that we are thankful for? often it is quite good things, like family or friends or the little blessings in our lives. sometimes it is also about our possessions or the things that we own that give us pleasure. either way, and any way, our thankfulness is always connected to our possession, to our having. there is something wrong with this.
why are we only thankful for the things that we have? what if having is not always the best thing? implicit in our thanks of all our many blessings is the idea that it is better to have all of these things in our lives and around us. but statistically speaking, most people who live in third world countries with far less are just as happy as americans if not more. so much for best buy's new slogan "live happier." we all somehow intuitively know that having more does not mean that life will be better, but we don't live or shop that way. what if it is better to be without something? can we be thankful for that?
what about those who do not have? and i'm not just talking about possessions. we can be thankful for our parents, but what about those who have lost their parents? we can be thankful for our friends, but what about those who have lost their friends? that is not to say that we shouldn't be thankful, but we would do well to remember that for all we have there are many who do not--and the history of america is laden with us giving thanks for things that we have taken at the expense of others, from the native americans right on down to the cheap goods we get at the exploitation of third-world countries. i don't say that to induce guilt, though maybe that wouldn't actually be such a bad thing every now and then, but rather just to be conscious.
i guess i am thinking this way because of seeing the things that i do not have. sure there is so much that i do have that i am thankful for, but man is it easy to focus on the few have-nots. and i suppose it's more the losses than that which i am without. which makes me think about all those others who hold losses in their lives. and we can look at this day, thanksgiving, as a time to set all those things aside and be grateful for all we do have--which of course we should do, but also as a time to learn to become thankful even for what we do not have or what we have lost. i'm so not there yet, but i want to be.
there is some loss that we can be thankful for ultimately because of how it creates space for something better to come in for which we will be more thankful. this is like a future-oriented thankfulness and still based on having. or we can be thankful for what we did have and what it gave us before whatever was lost--another having just based in the past. but there is other loss that cannot be replaced or made-up. can we be thankful for that too? even when we can find no judgment of our own to give a thing value--for isn't that based on us getting something out of the deal ultimately?
why is it all about us? can we be thankful for giving? is that not truly the better way? can we be thankful that we don't have something because we have given it away? and not because it made us feel better. can we be thankful that we don't have something, because perhaps it would take too much from us if we were "blessed" with it? can we be thankful for our lack of abundance? i guess that's harder to do when there is so little that we lack. but that is my challenge to myself (and you too i guess), to give thanks not just for what i've been given, but also for what has been taken from me and what i've given away. if for nothing else than to release my judgment on God and life and to identify with the poor in spirit--for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.