Thursday, December 09, 2004

Thanksgiving Eyes

I rarely feel like a foreigner. As an American, I don’t feel out of place in Canada (meme Montreal!). But on Thanksgiving, I get homesick. Yes, Canada has a Thanksgiving too, but it’s a pretty tepid affair, basically an October rerun of Labour Day.

To Americans, Thanksgiving is serious business. Yes, the rituals are pretty banal: turkey, cranberry sauce and football. But it feels like a national holiday. It may sound corny, but most Americans appreciate their country as a divine gift, and that’s what we celebrate on Thanksgiving.

But you don’t have to be an American to understand thanksgiving. Gratitude is a moral imperative. Reciprocity is one of the foundations of decency: if you receive something, you are obliged to show appreciation. Gratitude is also an important character trait.

But gratitude is not only an ethical obligation; it is also a perspective on life. When we take life for granted, many things upset us. How often do we start the day, annoyed by the fact that the kids/the dog/the neighbour woke us up early? And then we search for that one missing thing: the important file, the homework, the car keys. By the time we leave the house, our blood is at a full boil, and then we remember that stressful meeting at 10:00 o’clock. And it’s only 7:30 A.M.!

When you see the world with thanksgiving eyes, none of these problems matter. Thanksgiving eyes see the world from the perspective of gratitude. They notice all the things we take for granted, like eating and friendship, and see them for what they truly are, divine blessings.

For this reason, in the morning prayers, we thank God individually for all the little blessings. For opening our eyes. For clothes. For the strength to sit up. For the strength to stand up. For the ability to walk. Actually, these are not little blessings; they are overlooked blessings. That’s why you need thanksgiving eyes, to remember how large these “little” blessings really are. And when you can truly count your blessings, the “stressful” things in our agenda melt into insignificance.

A woman I knew kept a diary while battling cancer. In each entry she made sure to count her blessings, despite her difficulties. She would take note of the “little” things, like family members, fine food, and a few moments of laughter. She did this until the end, remembering the blessings that she still had in her grasp even as her life was slipping away. She saw life from the perspective of gratitude. In doing so, she made the end of her life count by focussing on the things in life that count the most.

Thanksgiving eyes are there to remind us that the ordinary is actually extraordinary, and the mundane is actually miraculous. With this outlook, every day is Thanksgiving day, no matter where you might live.

1 comment:

Yehuda said...

A/ Good essays. I prefer the one with Sukkot included.

B/ I hope that next time you can mention the feelings of the left with a phrase other than "the left's concern for social justice".

Social justice is code for the legislating/executive ordering of coercive laws to drive down the quality of everyone's life, so as to forever share in the misery, instead of sharing the skills, mindset, and the opportunity to grow.

IOW instead of figuring out how to help the poor bake more pies, "social justice" insists on smaller and smaller slices for everyone, with a few slices reserved, of course, for the "social justice warriors".

"Social justice" also insists on the cultural marxism of multiculturalism where all cultures, lifestyles and peoples are equal, except the American and Jewish Israeli ones, who must bow to the rest.

IMHO it's important that we understand that normalizing "social justice" in our conversation is a mistake. Already students in day schools are being groomed in fhis "social justice" movement.

Ignoring the truth of the SJW's aims will only continue the undermining of America, of Modern Orthodoxy, and of Israel.

PS - Mazel tov to the Kushner's.