Once upon a time I prayed every day to thank Jehovah for everything I had. Today is Thanksgiving 2020, a year of incredible difficulty for every single person I know, and also the 400th anniversary of Plymouth Rock, and therefore a time to think about the narrative we’ve been told about Thanksgiving, gratitude, and the Native Americans.
Once, a few years ago, shortly after Anthony died, I told mom I was thankful for … something, I don’t even remember what it was. She asked me, who was I grateful to? I’m not sure what prompted this question. She almost never asks me about my beliefs or my spiritual life or much of anything else.
At any rate, on this particular occasion she did. I stumbled around the unexpected question and said, “God,” and though that is not a lie, there’s so much more to my answer than that. So I want to revisit this question this Thanksgiving and talk about God and Gratitude.
Every day in my journal I write three things I’m grateful for. This might even have been what mom was asking about, because I’ve recommended a gratitude practice for both her and dad, and once, to my surprise, she told me she took our advice and that it went well. Even when I don’t have time for my full journaling practice, which is rare, I try to at least include gratitude.
Today, on this Thanksgiving, I wrote that I am grateful that I practice giving thanks every day. When I was a Jehovah’s Witness we did not technically celebrate Thanksgiving and our reasoning was that, “we give thanks every day.” But I do not think that I can say I practiced gratitude then. It was more a matter of, “you are required to pray, and this is how you pray: thanks for our food and our family and (fill in the blank and sometimes get creative) and all the things you give us. We ask that you bless (fill in the blank and sometimes get creative). In Jesus’ name, Amen.” You thank, you ask, amen. It was a plug and play recipe.
The gratitude I practice now is different. When you begin this practice, you name all the same things you would if you were sitting around the Thanksgiving table doing the ritual of naming what you are grateful for: food, family, shelter, love, friends, health, abundance. But when the ritual is daily, you can’t keep naming those seven things, so you start to get creative. You name the spiderweb glistening in the slanting morning sunlight. The quiet you’ve been waiting for for a week. Puppy dog eyes. Children’s laughter. The smell of baking bread. The peaceful ring of wind chimes. Having transportation. Being able to work from home. The excellent tea latte you’re drinking this morning. Hugs, for which you have always been grateful but which are so much more meaningful in this year of hug deficiency. A true practice of gratitude makes you notice more things for which to be grateful, and therefore, in my opinion, is the secret to happiness. The happiness is in the noticing.
That does leave the question of “to whom”, though, and for those of us who are religious we often don’t get past God. But here is my answer: I am thankful for the humans who work so that society functions, in so many ways, most of whom I will never meet, and especially this year I am thinking of people who are deemed “essential” but who at the same time we are more or less throwing to the wolves in putting them on the front lines without mask mandates, at least in my state. I am grateful to those people who fill all those functions. The grocery store clerk, the butcher, the mail lady who brings so much extra stuff this year, the farmer, the veterinarian, the workers in far-off lands who make the products that make my life possible and better. I thank Russ, who works hard for our family and for the people he serves. I thank the Earth for her bounty and for so many of those little things that I notice every day that make me happy and get written in my journal. I thank mom and dad for giving me life and raising me well. I thank my family at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Cookeville for believing in me and giving me a chance to serve. I thank all my ancestors. I thank my in-laws for adopting me and being my family in ways my family can’t, especially on holidays, but also in everyday ways, all year. I thank the sun and the rain and the rich soil. And yes, I thank the Divine that is in all of these things.
I know that many of us are missing normal so much right now. May this Thanksgiving be a true time of giving thanks, of finding your center by remembering what is, even now, so very good about life. May you give thanks for the loved ones you are missing. May we all be blessed with better days ahead.