Be thankful for what you do not have
It's been a long time since I reflected on the origin story of Thanksgiving -- maybe not since I had grade-school children who were taught the same simplistic story that I was. Here at the end of 2020 we are one year shy of the 400th anniversary of that historic event, some of which is true, some of which is not, and probably much of which has been forgotten. One thing is inarguable: Those were challenging times. Life was lived a lot closer to death than it is now, Covid notwithstanding.
One hundred and two passengers boarded the Mayflower in September 1620, left England, spent 66 days at sea, put down anchor in the wrong place (they were headed for the mouth of the Hudson River), stayed moored there for a month before crossing the bay to land at Plymouth, Mass. By then, it was deep winter, and most of them remained on the boat succumbing to scurvy, exposure and disease. By spring, half of them were dead. In March, 1621, the remainder moved ashore and were greeted by a native American who spoke their language. What were the odds?? You can bet that those 50 or so people were thankful.
You can read more at this link to History.com (and I encourage you to seek out hundreds of other resources both traditional and modern to deepen and widen your understanding of the simplistic, traditional story). But here's what sticks with me this week: Life was lived a lot closer to death then than it is now. So giving sincere, deeply, closely held, and meaningful thanks -- to God, to the great spirit, to your neighbor -- came a lot more quickly and easily then than it might now.
Now, in most of the developed world, we live in a time when almost everything we want is attainable from food, to healthcare, to shelter. Or sneakers or indoor plumbing or accessibility to new experiences. To be sure, this is not so for all of us. The poverty rate in 2018 in the US was 11.8%, or 38.1 million Americans. Still, my point is this: This is a week that we all focus on giving thanks.
I believe that is a worthwhile exercise. In fact, I practice gratitude as often as I can because regularly practicing gratitude is an aid to good mental health. As you take a moment to be thankful this week, remember to account for the really tough stuff. Be thankful for what you don't have to face. I pray your family is intact. I hope your health is strong. And, if you have easily accessible food to eat, count yourself lucky.
Next year, it will be more fun. We'll be together again. This year, let us be smart, safe and mindful of the hardships we do not have to endure. And after giving thanks for our good fortune, let us pray for those in pain, despair and need.