Every year, I look forward to writing this Thanksgiving post. This is my tenth year doing it, so it has become a bit of a tradition that refreshes me, and will hopefully lift your spirits during this harvest season.
Despite what you hear on TV or read online, life is really quite good. It has been that way for so long that many of us have never really known true hardship, discomfort or dispair. Thanksgiving is a time of gratitude for the many things that we have, for the many benefits given to us by past work, and for the sacrifices that have been made on our behalf. But Thanksgiving has become a mere moment of gratitude, as capitalism marches on requiring that we never be truly satisfied. Our economic system doesn’t deal well with gratitude because it diminishes our desire to buy more, to spend more, to consume more. Have you noticed that so many retailers this year are opening their doors the moment that Thanksgiving is done? Some are even opening Thursday at 10:00 PM. It is as if we just can’t wait to throw Thanksgiving out the window, to rush out into the dark and the cold and fight with crowds to buy things that are mostly novelty while kicking satisfaction and plenitude to the curb.
In spite of the daily or even hourly anxiety created by our information-based society, I find it tremendously rewarding to pause for just a moment to consider the many blessings and riches that rain down on us on a daily basis. For me, everyday should be Thanksgiving. During today’s morning routine, I took time to reflect on the “taken-for-granted” comforts that so much of the world still struggles to experience. A bounty of clean water (hot when I want it, cold when I don’t), a sturdy home that has stood unscathed for over a century, and ample food both from local farmers and shipped in from afar. My son goes to a wonderful public school that challenges his mind, broadens his experiences, and offers a safe environment for himself and his many friends. This school is paid for through community property taxes, collected by an efficient local government that is democratically elected, stable, and responsive to our community’s needs. For the most part, democracy is alive and well, as is the rule of law. We are safe, secure, and when we need it we are well taken care of.
My family is healthy. We live in a community that remains robust, stable, diverse and friendly. In the Fox Valley, life is pretty good! We have relatively low unemployment, high quality infrastructure, rich farm land, and ample water resources. Social life in Wisconsin is robust: the Packers are winning (as did the Brewers this year), the arts scene is as rich as ever, and there are more restaurants with immensely varied menus today than at any other time in our history. Whatever you want to do, you can generally find it within an hour’s drive. If you can’t, our network of regional airports can get you there easily.
We’ve really got it all, yet we’re all fearful of seeing it vanish before our very eyes. You’ve heard the term “the 1%” thrown about lately. My wife invited me to consider that in the context of humanity, we are ALL the 1%. Maybe not the 1% of Americans who control the vast majority of wealth in this country (although I’m working feverishly on that). But together we represent the 1% of the world that has everything we could possibly need, and for that, I am eternally grateful. It is a result of the work that we have individually done over our lifetimes, and the past efforts of our parents and elders that we are so fortunate for today. It is to that end that we must never take our many blessings for granted, and that we work continuously to make them sustainable for future genertions (even to the point of near-term sacrifice).
Thanksgiving honors the work of our elders who have built our great society over many generations. Thanksgiving honors the sacrifices so many have made for all of us and which calls on us to sacrifice just a bit in the same way for coming generations. It is for the promise of future Thanksgivings that we are called to sacrifice together to lay the foundation for a stable and sustainable society for all time.
While there is much work yet to be done, I am forever thankful for the time we have to make it so.