Can you be thankful without directing your gratitude toward something or someone? I wonder this Thanksgiving Sunday about feeling thankful, about expressing grateful feelings without knowing exactly what or whom I ought to be thankful to, a euphoria without knowledge of its source. I have moments—sometimes days—like that.
Long ago now, I had an epiphany forced upon me by circumstance, the revelation being that to thank God, or Allah, or the Buddha specifically for my abundant food, for instance, could hardly be consistent without its corollary, namely that the deity that chose to grant me such good fortune also chose to let—or cause—my neighbour to go hungry. The conundrum caused too much stress to ancient theologians, I concluded, and so a second god, an evil one, was invented so that a different deity could be blamed for the ubiquity of evils and failures.
But whether the ancients were right or wrong in their world view regarding good and evil, they did prepare for us some remarkable insights. I'm intrigued by their thoughts on Sabbath, for instance, a deliberate check on our tendency to overdo practically every project that engages us: too much focus on ourselves, too much property and stuff, obsessive preoccupations with self-indulgences. The Sabbath is a stop sign that urges us to take stock of our lives and reset if necessary.
Perhaps Thanksgiving is a Sabbath of sorts, an acknowledgement that those things that keep us well-fed, safe and content have been won with great effort by those who went before us and by those that sweat and strain to build, to fix, to plant, to harvest so that we might be warm, safe and satisfied. My inclination this thanksgiving is to show the sincerest gratitude to my family, to my neighbours, to farmer friends, even to the man who always has a store of gasoline for me so I can drive thither and yon and the corner grocer for blessing me with friendship, hard work, skills.
And, of course, I will in a faltering, uncertain way give thanks for the miracle of this planet with its beauty, its sustaining resources, its air, water, soil and oxygen that deserve my gratitude with every breath I draw, with every apple I eat, with every waking morning even though my pleasure in all of it is brief and uncertain.
For certain, I did not make this happen.
My thoughts of thanksgiving often stray to the poetry of Gerard Manly Hopkins, whose verse sometimes baffled my English students completely, but whose sounds and images captivated the more one immersed oneself in them, studied them.
Gerard Manly Hopkins
Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal, chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: