Let’s face it: most of us are not walking around feeling thankful; it’s just not in our nature. We more often concentrate on what we don’t have than what we do. But now comes a day when we are reminded to give thanks.
I am generally of the too-cool-for-school mentality. I feel uncomfortable expressing my emotions or stating the obvious. I avoid outwardly celebrating Hallmark holidays with their flowery sentiments.
So it is with Thanksgiving, which is sold to us as an occasion to remember that first feast of our very own Pilgrims and their esteemed Native American guests (and eventual victims) back in 1621. Those Pilgrims — the ones who survived — had a great deal to be thankful for. I am less clear about what motivated the Wampanoag, and I am certain they would agree in hindsight that the whole thing was a mistake.
Thanksgiving was first made an official national holiday by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 in the midst of the Civil War; that means that half of the states were not in on the deal, and it is hard to see what anyone had to celebrate at that time. Thanksgiving today is too often a celebration of gluttony and pro football, a time for jammed-up airports, overcrowded highways, and forced family reunions.
But, as I have previously written about our commercialized Christmas, sometimes you have to separate the hype from the essentials. Holidays, ceremonies, and rituals of all kinds connect us to fundamentals and focus our attention on what really matters — if we allow for that connection. So, if we can find the time amidst all the frenzy, we should reflect on our lives and be thankful for what we have.
Our families and friends should be foremost on our minds. We have no say over what family we are in, but we do have the capacity to focus on its positive elements and celebrate and strengthen them. Some families are admittedly damaged, but few are beyond repair. If we start with those closest to us, if we think about a parent’s — or grandparent’s or aunt’s or uncle’s — unqualified (if imperfect) love, or a sibling’s strong (if complicated) bond, or a child’s — or a niece’s or nephew’s — energy and promise, there is much to be thankful for.
Friendship is the holiest foundation of our lives. Personal relationships are critical to our well-being. We are not meant to live alone without meaningful, mutually sustaining connections. What a joy it is to feel understood, appreciated, and loved for who you are. I have lost many friends these past few years, but I am grateful for what they gave me. I have it still.
Beyond our friends, we have our community, and here the towns of the Outer Cape are at their best. There is an intimacy and first-handedness about life in our towns that could be the envy of the world. Every day I feel the support of those around me, not only from my wonderful neighbors but from people whose names I don’t even know — or constantly forget — but whose feelings for our community I understand. This is a mutualism that is healthy and life-affirming.
We live in a time and a place that supports our freedom. Much of the world lacks what we have: the ability to be who we want to be, say what we want to say, go where we want to go. At Provincetown’s special town meeting earlier this month, I experienced the exhilaration of engaging with my fellow citizens, of listening and speaking and deliberating for the common good.
Finally, we have around us a sustaining environment. Wherever you live, there is beauty outside your door and nearby stretches of the natural world in which to immerse yourself — beach, dune, woodland, marshes — and creatures large and small to not only admire but learn from. “Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy,” writes Robin Wall Kimmerer in Braided Sweetgrass.
So, yes, let us give thanks. But let it not end there. Gratitude should be the first step in living a fuller life, of giving to those who give to us, getting involved, and giving back, thankfully, with a full heart.