It’s the day before Thanksgiving, so how can I not be thinking about gratitude?
Concurrently, how can I not be thinking about those whose suffering contributed to my very fortunate place in life, even if such musing is tinged with guilt?
On the surface, it’s nice to recall the legendary first Thanksgiving near Cape Cod, in which the Wampanoag people cooperatively joined with English Separatists who had come over on the Mayflower, both contributing to provide food and share the meal.
One line of my ancestry goes back to one of those Mayflower “pilgrims,” and I’m glad that initial relations between the two groups were cordial – but we know that ensuing years saw mutual cooperation turn to betrayal and bloodshed as a flood of immigrants systematically displaced Native Americans from the lands they had inhabited for 12,000 years.
I grew up as a lower middle class but otherwise white-privileged son of the South. The county I called home once served as Cherokee hunting grounds. Later, much of it was converted to farmland by the hard labor of slaves whose sweat and blood and tears fertilized the southern economy.
Blessings abound in my life. I’ve had to work hard and overcome bumps in the road like most other people. I could spend hours listing the many things I’m grateful for, but is self-focused gratitude the best way to spend the day?
I am thankful, but I believe we could benefit from spending less time counting the blessings we enjoy and more time remembering those who suffered the most in making such benisons possible.
And not just to remember, but to do something, however small or insignificant it may seem. We can start by refusing to gloss over the ugly side of our past. We can make the effort to learn more about the injustices and the sacrifices that accompanied the growth of the country and the economy that we enjoy.
We white folk also would do well to intentionally express thanks, not just to God, but to the descendants of Native Americans and Black Americans who have every reason to harbor deep grudges, but many of whom have persevered and who participate in building a better world.
One good way to show gratitude is through generosity. With “Giving Tuesday” on the horizon, we can look for ways to share some of our blessings with others who still suffer from deeply rooted racial or economic disadvantages.
Thanksgiving is more than words, and more even than an attitude. Real Thanksgiving – or “Thanksliving,” as we preachers sometimes promote it – is like love. It is not just something we say or feel, but something we do.