Thankful for What?

Thankful for What? November 22, 2016

Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving cropped
Mural image credit: By English: Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives.

Patron saint of separationism Thomas Jefferson (though he was himself no saint) resolutely refused to call for national days of prayer or thanksgiving. Nowadays, we don’t even consider Thanksgiving a religious holiday. Indeed, today it has a thoroughly secular nature, divorced from any religious connotation and observed by theists and atheists alike.

Thanksgiving celebrates our nation’s secular mythology, of Native Americans and Pilgrims coming together in peace and harmony. It’s a useful fantasy that sets the table, so to speak, for this far from a harmonious time. Coming so soon after the most divisive presidential election in modern memory, millions of American are approaching Thanksgiving with an unusual degree of dred of the conflict to come.

Instead of apprehensions about the usual petty family squabbles–noooo, please don’t bring up the car sale again!–the fears run to whether the Trumpsters and the Clintonites will tear into each other instead of the turkey.

Will the dining table more resemble Custer’s last stand than the peaceful tableau of legend? Will you long to grab the wishbone so you can wish for this whole nightmare to be over?

And, really, what do we have to be thankful for?

Well, we can certainly be thankful that 2016 is drawing to a close. 2016 was an uncommonly shitty year. But with the inauguration of Donald Trump looming in January, 2017 will hardly be an auspicious one. If this is what we’d like to to to 2016, what will be an appropriate finale to 2017?

To be honest, I never really had anything to be truly thankful for on Thanksgiving…until I almost died in 2013. I’ve had to fight to regain so much that you’d think I’d be feeling sorry for myself. But as hard as my recovery has been, whenever I start to feel discouraged I always think, “It’s better than the alternative.”

I’m fortunate enough have the life left to take on these battles.

Indeed, before my very fortunate recovery from my coma and strokes, I used to think that I was unlucky (even though I don’t believe in luck). It was more of a feeling than a conviction, but an extremely self-destructive one.

Oh, woe is me; everything is against me. Nothing ever goes right.

That mindset is perniciously self-defeating. If nothing ever goes right, what’s the point of even trying?

But there’s no good luck or bad luck, simply the impersonal vicissitudes of fortune. It’s that uncertainty that leads so many to prayer and blind faith.

For those of us who have thrown off the security blanket of religion, however, we have to rely on our own inner resources. There’s no supernatural agency doling out good fortune like bite-size Snickers on Halloween, so we have to take charge of anything within our powers to control.

We can be thankful that we have the strength within ourselves to take on whatever shit life decides to throw at us. (Um, thanks. You should be a motivational speaker, you may be thinking.)

Hey, if I could learn to walk again, you certainly have the strength to face the dreaded aunt Ada. And even if cousin Danny wears that Make America Great Again cap, you will be able to refrain from stuffing it down his throat.

And, yes, you have the wherewithal to greet the challenges of 2017, one horrific Trump administration move at a time. Where there’s life, there’s hope, or so the cliche goes. And with life comes the power and strength to fight.

And that’s truly something to be thankful for.

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