Simplicity of giving thanks

Thanksgiving has become my favorite holiday. The reason lies in its simplicity: The day is not laden with fervor. Rather, it is premised on a simple construct: Offering gratitude.

My friend Amy Collette wrote a book titled The Gratitude Connection. One of the beauties of Amy’s work lies in its simplicity. It’s not a verbose treatise, but an easy, gentle, thoughtful exercise into the practice of giving thanks.

Why give thanks and to whom or what? Another person or people, perhaps.  For some, the Universe. For others, a deified construction: e.g., God. For those fortunate enough to have been born into a land abounding with materialistic plenty and freedom, consider thanking Chance.

We live in a dichotomous Universe. Opposites are its mainstay. Light and dark. Left and right. Cosmic good and evil. I blame the pre-Christian Zoroastrians for correlating that natural division to human behavior. The results have been deplorable: increasingly brutal wars, mass pogroms, and a growing divided body politic. As Arthur Miller points out in “The Crucible,” the Devil has become a “necessary part of a respectable view of cosmology.”

“Ours is a divided empire,” he writes, “in which certain ideas and emotions and actions are of God, and their opposites are of Lucifer. It is impossible for most men to conceive of a morality without sin as an earth without ‘sky.’”

Miller connects that thinking with a “political policy equated with moral right, and opposition to it with diabolical malevolence.”

I rail against such nonsensical thinking, but it doesn’t change the reality of it having been embedded into the human consciousness, which is evidence for psychological evolution.

It lies at the core of our political divisions’ fault line. We’re no longer e pluribus unum; instead, we’ve become a realigned many.

Native and immigrant. Friend and foe. Those dichotomies strike at the heart of our national divisions. Still, to give thanks for those hoping to join the American family and for one’s political adversaries? That’s tough. But then, I don’t believe Jesus said it would be easy.

Those that hold opposing viewpoints challenge me to think more deeply about what I believe. I’m grateful for that despite an occasional urge to grab and shake them wondering, “What the hell are you thinking?”.

Giving thanks is an emotional experience, but it also serves as a bonding mechanism. The narcissistic individual’s self-centeredness and non-empathetic indifference are lethal to a tribe or community.

Still, it’s not the reason one gives thanks. One does so to express his appreciation for whatever he/she deems important to be grateful for. The human default is to be thankful for “good stuff.” But what about that which is flawed and offers challenges? For life without them is mere existence without meaning.

You might be aware of Doug Glidden’s house being completely incinerated. Materially, Doug lost nearly everything, but he managed to get out safely and save his animals. Doug hasn’t lost his sense of gratitude and wonderment for what he still has: His and his animals’ lives and the supportive network of friends and community among them.

In the end, the Universe owes no one anything. Nature is a most unfeeling mother. Witness the conflagration in Paradise, CA.

And yet, to be grateful for all that life holds.

I opened with Thanksgiving being special due to its simplicity. After considering its deeper ramifications, it seems far more complicated.

Or maybe not.

As is beauty, gratitude is a human construct. Birds aren’t aesthetically selective when weaving nests, and your pet isn’t pondering what he/she could get or do for you on Pet Parent Day.

Joseph Campbell asked, “What’s the meaning of a flower?” Nothing. You give it meaning. Otherwise, it’s a botanical product.

What’s the meaning or purpose of giving thanks?

Thanksgiving is the one day set aside for our American family to reflect on more than its materialism.

Imagine 330 million people sitting around a rustic outdoor table laden with a cornucopia of delicious foods. A Californian asks, “Would someone please pass the bean salad?” A Texan takes the bowl the New Yorker has passed to him, hands it to his West Coast neighbor and says, “Here you go, brother.”

It’s that simple. Happy Thanksgiving.

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