Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

Giving Thanks in a Mad World

on November 25, 2014

cornucopia

This is the week of Thanks-giving, when we express our gratitude for the good things we have in our lives. It’s my favorite holiday, not only because it’s the one I spend with my extended family (who are wonderful, kind, loving, funny people), but also because it gets me to be specific about recognizing the amazing blessings I have in my life (that are generally right in front of me). Of course I am always thankful (in a subconscious way) for the roof over my head, food in my fridge, supportive family and terrific friends, but this week I take time out to meditate on them. When I do that, when I count my blessings, I begin to feel like the richest person in the world. It helps keep things in perspective, which, unless you live in a cave, is hard to do in this increasingly mad world. Which brings me to the internal conflict I now find myself experiencing.

It feels almost obscene to be thankful for my good fortune when there are so many who don’t have plentiful good food and easy access to clean water. It seems like a betrayal to be happy in my oppression-free life when there is so much injustice in the world. How can I blithely sit down at a table covered by an abundant holiday meal when I see the suffering of refugees, the horror of genocide, and the indiscriminate bombing of innocents in the world? How can I laugh and be joyful with my loved ones when children are abused, when the mentally ill are ignored, when unarmed teenagers are gunned down – in this country? How does that not make me a hypocrite? How does that not make me part of the problem, turning my back on a mountain of troubles?

I struggle with how to respond to everything I see on the news and in my Facebook and Twitter feeds. I start to feel guilty when I get excited about the upcoming turkey and dressing when other people are protesting in the streets. Am I who I say I am, someone who cares about the weak, the silent, the powerless? Or do I just pay lip service to these things? These questions leave me feeling anxious, like I should be doing something about all if it if I only knew what.

I know what I won’t do, and that’s fan the flames of a fire that is already burning out of control. I decided a long time ago that I would refrain from foisting my indignation on my unsuspecting friends via the internet. There’s too much of that already. For those of you who do express your outrage in this public way, I understand why you want to do it, but I would ask what you’re trying to accomplish. If you are achieving your desired aims (either to solicit agreement from like-minded people, or to pursue arguments with those who disagree) then I suppose your efforts are fruitful. If you post things of a particular slant in the hopes of changing someone’s mind, then you’re probably wasting your time – the internet is not a safe haven for reasonable people willing to engage in dispassionate discourse. You should probably look for them elsewhere.

And I think that the constant flow of horribleness is dangerous to our well-being. But that’s a conversation for another day.

Getting back the point of all this, then, is how do I reconcile my own good fortune with the scarcity I see everywhere?

At least part of the answer, for me, is rooted in the spirit of Thanksgiving. I am genuinely thankful that I was born where and when I was. I am genuinely thankful that both of my parents are still living, and that they love me. I am genuinely thankful for my wonderful husband, who is a gift to me every day. I am genuinely thankful for my family, who are strong, kind, faithful people. I am genuinely thankful for my friends, who bring such love and laughter into my life. I am genuinely thankful for all the material things I have – a home that is warm and dry, clothes to wear, a car to drive. I am thankful because I know that so very many people in this world don’t have some, or any, of these things. It makes me humble that I do.

The other part of the answer is that even as I am thankful for what I have, I try to do something for those who have not. I give money to various charities. I volunteer my time at the soup kitchen. I donate unwanted goods to organizations who will pass them on to needy people for free.

And finally, I try to live my convictions. I gave money to the pregnant woman in the Target parking lot without making her finish her carefully rehearsed speech about why she deserved my help (“I’m not homeless”, she said, as if not having a home would have made her unworthy of the money I gave her). I try to treat my fellow man with understanding and compassion, even when I’m frustrated by them. I do my best to be kind and patient, as I want people to be kind and patient with me. I’m not always successful, but I try.

Sometimes we get an opportunity to stand up in a real way for what we believe. When those times come, it’s important to take advantage of them. When those times come, it is important to stand up in love, not hate. Screaming “You’re Wrong!” at each other only widens the gulf between us.

My friends, take some time this week and turn off the television and the computer, and think on what you have to be thankful for. Dwell on your blessings. Let your gratitude fill you up so that when you look out at the world, you will see it through love-filled eyes. I promise you, it will look very different indeed.

photo credit: Carmyarmyofme via photopin cc

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