On Being Thankful

Well, tomorrow’s Thanksgiving, and, besides football, discarded cranberry sauce, and tryptophan naps in a recliner, an annual American tradition will take place: completely insincere thankfulness.

You know the scene: the extended family will gather, successfully (to some degree) tamping down the dysfunction long enough to occupy a home and share a meal. As the stuffing is passed, Uncle George will comment on how thankful he is that the Cubs had a good team this year. Aunt Gertrude will counter with how thankful and happy she is that her manicurist recovered from gout in time for the holidays, and Grandma Jolene will praise the new choir robes at church. Nephew Jordan won’t be listening, but he’ll be thankful for his new tablet computer.  You’ll probably smile, listen politely, and shake your head. But maybe you’ll also think to yourself, “These people aren’t thankful for any of this stuff.” And, you’d be so, so right.

Many of us (including me) live lives of such comfort, predictability, and plenty that genuine thankfulness is difficult to come by. We like things. We might even love things. We recognize how lucky we are in many respects, but thankfulness requires an emotional elasticity wrought from pain, want, and need that we cannot imagine, much less draw upon. No one will be thankful for oxygen, rocks, or paper plates. We like these things, especially asthmatic geologists at a picnic, but their ubiquitousness precludes being thankful for them.

A handy rule to live by is that you cannot truly be thankful for something unless it has, at some point, driven you to tears. That’s a minimum test. If you’ve faced a serious illness, you can be thankful for your health. If the worst you’ve soldiered through is a cold and raw nose, you cannot be thankful for your health. See the difference?

Am I playing semantics? Am I setting the bar for thankfulness too high? Maybe, but, then again, maybe it’s time we raised the bar just a bit. Our cultural conversations are dominated by reality television shows, the latest social media apps propelled by nothing but our vanity, and  political candidates in a race to the bottom in just about every category, including offensiveness, nuanced ideas, and statesmanship. At some point, don’t we have to ask for more? Could we be asking for any less?

So, tomorrow, as you gather, as you feast, take the opportunity amongst friends and family to name the people, places, and things for which you are genuinely thankful. The things that have touched your life. The things over which you have cried but now rejoice. Not things you like. Not things that make life a little easier. But, rather, the things that are your life, that made you who you are, and that give you hope and strength for tomorrow.

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