We say it every year, “Thanksgiving is the start of the holiday season.” Fair enough; not much restful about this season but there is much celebratory and enjoyable. It seems almost trite to ask if you have stopped to think about what it is you are actually celebrating, but it’s appropriate. Of course most people hate that question because it drips with religious implications, but it does not have to.
Thanksgiving, the holiday that kicks off the season, the holiday we celebrate this week, is a holiday dedicated simply to an attitude. That’s all, an attitude. Being thankful. Regardless of whether one is thankful to a deity or a pet, the attitude is important. That we have a holiday set aside specifically for that attitude, that such a holiday originated as an American expression, says that there is something essentially American about gratitude. Thankfulness is supposed to be something that defines us as a nation.
To judge from our news, it is not something that defines us anymore. We gripe, we complain and we demand – the exact opposite of thankfulness. The news is full of someone’s latest grievance, or the most recent protest. And the country now seems composed only of numerous individual groups claiming their “rights.” Thankfulness implies a lack of grievance and a contentment with current circumstance. But rather than be grateful for the health we enjoy, better than any other nation in history, we complain about the healthcare we do not have and think is ours by birthright. Rather than be grateful that this is, while not perfect, the least oppressive, freest nation in history, we complain that someone else has it a little better than we do. On this busiest of travel weekends we will gripe about the hassle when we should marvel at the mobility.
I am not immune from this tendency. I will undoubtedly mumble about spending too much money and all the travel hassle if Butler does not win its bracket at the incredible PK80 tournament this weekend. This thing may be the most spectacular display of college basketball ever that is not the NCAA tournament – and I am going to be there. I should be more than satisfied. And in that mumbling I will be something less than truly American.
I could go on citing evidence of this nation’s general ingratitude all day – the people that find it awkward when you grant a common courtesy like holding a door, the lack of common courtesies, the insanity that will happen Friday when a store runs out of something – the list is never ending. Simply the fact that Thanksgiving seems to be disappearing as a holiday, other than Christmas shopping kick-off, is a sign that thankfulness is no longer practiced as a quintessential American trait.
Therein lies the rub. You think you are just “correcting” history when you talk about the oppression that happened to Native Americans as a result of the European settlement of North America. And if that historical correction is all that happened it would not be so bad. But much more has happened. We have lost our gratitude. The narrative we now tell, if we tell one at all, does not engender gratitude and so it slips through our fingers and we simply add another complaint to the complaint file. And the file becomes so deep that necessity demands we ignore them – which only deepens ingratitude.
It has gotten so bad that in recent days we have seen people very publicly demand thanks which means when the thanks are offered their sincerity will always be in question. Not to mention there is a lack of gratitude for the opportunity to serve in the demand itself. And the nation becomes a coarser, uglier place – more like the rest of the world, less exceptional, less gracious.
Thankfulness is the grease that has lubricated American gears since the beginning. Whatever hardship has come our way, whatever obstacle, whatever difficulty we have tackled it with gratitude, and it is that gratitude that has made us something very special and very different in this world. We have been grateful for the opportunity to live through the hardship on our own terms; to overcome the obstacle by our own capabilities. Now we just want to whine and beg someone else to remove the obstacle or support us in the hardship. Thus the grease is gone and the gears seize.
Thursday we will all say “Thanks” to someone or something, and that’ll be good. But let’s do more than that. Let’s reclaim our attitude of thankfulness and carry it with us not just through the season, but through the entire year.