The Thanksgiving tradition is one of my most favorite holidays in America. Generally celebrated on the last Thursday in November, it brings together family and friends to celebrate the survival of a Pilgrim colony in 1621 through the generosity of the native Indians. These Indians had compassion for the foreigners who landed on their soil and, as the story goes, helped them through the first year in a new land when their harvest was very sparse. The year after their arrival produced a bountiful harvest and the Pilgrims shared their prosperity with their Indian friends by inviting them to a feast of giving thanks for their blessings.
When asked by Americans if Germans celebrate Thanksgiving too, I’ll answer back that yes, we do. It is very much a religious holiday. After the harvest is complete, and the last fruits and vegetables have been gathered, we celebrate Erntedankfest (harvest festival of thanks) in church by displaying the crop to give thanks and receive blessings. This happens on the first Sunday in October. This sort of custom is very old and has been done since man learned to cultivate the land to feed himself. Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Greeks all had a festival of the harvest to give thanks to the gods for their bountiful harvest.
Besides the general similarities of giving thanks for the crop, the American holiday tradition goes deeper than that. It is celebrated in the homes of families by sharing a meal. Most Americans use this holiday to find thankfulness in their lives. The fact that many people still contemplate finding "gratitude" and "thankfulness" in their lives speaks of a spirit that lives on through this tradition in America; something that surpasses religious and political affiliations. Thankfulness can be found across borders and ideologies. It penetrates into our human nature and can triumphantly transform sorrow into joy; loss into gain. Thankfulness is very hope-inspiring and a natural endorphin releaser that heals.
So many terrible testimonies can be given by many Americans on how the world has changed for them since 2001, and how those changes have affected their lives. The past three years have shocked a nation and put its people through great grief. Sadly, many remain stuck in an anger that has alienated people and brought them into such a state of hate and vengefulness that a country has become polarized in a way that has never been seen before. Hate and anger cloud one’s vision. One is unable to have good and sound judgment. Those mindsets ruin the fertile ground and prepare the way for an enemy to slither its way into the most private corners of our being. Proof of that is seen in the actions taken by those who have not grieved properly.
Grieving persons experience so many different cycles in their pain and loss that when stuck in anger and depression it is often difficult to see the blessings and find gratitude in one’s life. One way of diverting the grief is to find blame and fault in others for one’s loss. Some people may even start bargaining with God "If I do this and that, then please make it all go away." But we cannot make a detour into the past and change it, nor bypass the present to enter the ideal future. The present tense is still the most difficult tense to live through when everything else seems bleak and sinister because it requires facing reality without wanting to lose hope, especially when hope just hangs by a thin thread.
Practicing gratitude and thankfulness every day puts things back in perspective and can detach the griever from his pain. He can start seeing beyond his own suffering. For it to really work, a person who is grieving has to take that first step. It is quite surprising where thankfulness can be found. It’s not in anything that’s the "biggest" or the "best." Often it is in the smallest and most overlooked aspects of life. Great power often begins in the smallest of things, like a mustard seed, and once allowed to grow can yield the largest production.
On a cloudy and cold fall day in November, Americans flock back home again to visit their families. Many Americans will share with their families what they are thankful for during their Thanksgiving meal before the turkey gets cut, and plates are loaded with stuffing, corn, cranberry sauce and grandma’s special sweet potato casserole. They watch football games, eat pumpkin pie, retell the same old stories, and add a few new details to those familiar tales. There’s warmth in the homes where people have healed from their grief, and there will still be a stifled and uncomfortable feeling with those who remain stuck in blaming and scape-goating others for their plight, suffering and grief.
A new perspective can give all of us a break, clear a foggy vision and remove falseness from our minds, and reinforce the values we treasure. It’s cleansing. Americans always have had that choice. Although the short-term outlook may seem hopeless and disappointing for some, that never means it has to stay that way. Living in the present gives everyone a choice to pursue better results in one’s own life. It anchors us in hope.
And so I offer a few things I am personally grateful for.
I am very thankful for being given a life by the One who created me. It shows that it has a value. My lesson has been to learn to continually treasure it and not to slander it carelessly. Those who don’t value it will attract nothing of value.
I am thankful that I was created out of love, and born a woman. As a woman I have been part of creating life and giving birth to life. I have learned that as woman I am not man. I do not think or feel from a masculine perspective. Being feminine is not a curse but a gift.
I am thankful that I have learned to love the unborn without seeing. I have felt how one are two, and two were one.
I am thankful that every moment is not finality but an endless continuum of choices. Even if I stomp my foot at times, because the world is not revolving according to my "vision," there is always a greater Vision in the universe that moves according to its own plan with grander ideas and higher thoughts than my human mind can comprehend. How boring would life be if it conformed to every whim of mine? I’m thankful for differences of mind; through these differences I discover my own thoughts.
I am thankful for candy-breath kisses and Crayon stains; smudgy chocolate hands and trusting little green eyes. Innocent love can move even the hardest hearts of adults to quicken with life again. Thanks to the young at heart, they keep the world alive to believe in goodness.
I am thankful for all the difficult and rough moments in my life. They taught me to discard wrong beliefs. Unanswered prayers are really acts of kindness, because its wisdom holds better dividends. Patience is accompanied with trials; without it there would be no discovered values. Great miracles are found in the smallest acts of generosity and kindness, even when no instant reward can be seen. Long-term goals prosper better than short-term results. The lower moments in life can teach that.
I am thankful for owning what I know. Most of what I have learned I had to earn. It may have started with a controversial question or a stubborn attitude that ran into nonproductive ventures. A humbler ego that enters partnership with one’s soul can gain more ground than a prideful one. We need constant reminders that we are not the star in the universe, but only a body orbiting the sun. Nobody can steal the property of what one gained in heart and mind. But an un-harnessed ego can quickly gamble the property away. Be careful of what feeds the ego.
And I am thankful for my family and friends; the ones who are still in my life today. We’ve been through the good and the bad together. I am thankful even for all of those who have come and gone. All of them contributed to where I am today. They are not my source of happiness alone. They are individuals with their own characteristics and traits, with flaws and human faults as visible in my eyes as mine are in theirs. We are not perfect beings and offend one another whether we intend to or not. And yet we have the capacity to show mercy and forgiveness, and the ability to continue on loving even if it does not visibly show it at the moment. It’s still a choice, which can only be made in the present tense. No other tense is more powerful and as short-lived. With the blink of an eye we are at the verge of past and future. Find thankfulness in being able to blink that eye.
I am thankful that I accept my mortality. That puts my life in the right perspective. Children can see the world in black and white and believe they are invulnerable. Adults on the other hand have experienced painful arrows that hit their vulnerable spots. Be thankful for those vulnerable moments. They bring man back down to earth again and accept the fact he’s no god. That alone tells me that I have no right to control someone else’s life. Those who think differently really believe they are a god. They never felt their own vulnerability. Their heart has no nerve and is covered in a crust of cement.
American Thanksgiving represents everything that stands for goodness in America. It’s a tradition that is uniquely American in that it celebrates survival and freedom that came through mutual acts of kindness and generosity. A reciprocal exchange based on choices that were blessed by showing gratitude for providing a basic need. Food. Sharing a meal with one another is still one of the most intimate and vulnerable experiences. The guest expresses gratitude and the host is pleased that he can please his guest. Finding gratitude, thankfulness and blessings in one’s own life is still the most challenging, because we can’t visibly see the Host. We can see the blessings however, if we really look. Practicing gratitude gives strength to the weak, and removes power from the "wicked." Wickedness thrives on blame, fear, anger and hate. Thankfulness and gratitude in the midst of trouble would most likely surprise those to whom such attitudes are foreign.
Sabine Barnhart [send her mail] moved to the US in 1980 and lives in Fort Worth, TX with her three children. For the past 15 years she has been working for an international service company.