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Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.

It truly is, because the day allows us to gather with friends and relatives and appreciate all we have. And, lord knows, I have a lot. Fantastic wife and children (and dog). Supportive and loving parents and in-laws. A brother, nephews, sisters-in-law, cousins … I’m living a charmed life, doing what I love for a living, residing in a dream place.

I’m as thankful as one can be.

And yet … something about Thanksgiving always rubs me a bit wrongly. It’s similar to those who attend church or synagogue to pray for themselves, then count their blessings that, oh, a job worked out, or a child was born healthy. Because—if you really think about it—shouldn’t our thankfulness be coupled by a profound sadness? I mean, I’m only aware of my luck because so many others have lives cloaked by pain and suffering. So should I be more glad that I’m comfortable and happy, or more sad that so many others are not? Should I look at the child in Africa dying from Ebola and say, “God, I’m so damn lucky” or “God, he’s so damn unlucky?” And how can I be truly thankful, when there’s greed, there’s corruption, there’s starvation, there’s disease, there’s pain, there’s heartbreak. I open the New York Times and read one crushing piece after another—slaughter in the Middle East, ISIS on the march. Can I be simultaneously happy while a journalist is having his head sliced off?

I have no answers here. I just think that the happiness of Thanksgiving needs to be accompanied by heartbreak.

I’m thankful.

So many others are not.

1 thought on “Thankful”

  1. Michael B Dougherty

    I’m not sure the two impulses are in conflict. And it’s an illustration of why we pick different days to especially reflect or embody or celebrate a stance such as “thankfulness” or certain religious holidays that are marked for repentance, fasting, or rejoicing, or even welcoming in outsiders.

    Sometimes these holidays are in sync with our own souls, and we genuinely feel what the day encourages us to feel. At other times they provide a useful, or usefully confounding counterpoint to what we feel. But still, they are suggestive of a rhythm that beats behind life.

    And that rhythm also means the beat happens and passes. It is not: Thankfulness, full stop. As if Thanksgiving we’re the only word on life. Sometimes these holidays pile up on each other to really emphasize the contradictions in life. Christians have Lent which is marked by extra fasting, repentance and good deeds, or is supposed to be. Naturally this birthed Mardi Gras to get in the last licks of excess, feasting, and even wildness before this other season.

    I bet if you ask people volunteering at public kitchens or homeless shelters on Thanksgiving morning, especially if it is their first few times doing it, they’ll admit to that same feeling of heartbreak that was stalking them on a day in which they had so much to be thankful for.

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