I grapple with making the expression of my gratefulness palatable. It is too dulcet to say trees are pretty, or I’m all full of glowy stuff, or whatever. I think what such effusions lack is empathy. People who gush without context freak me out a little and I want to ignore them.
Still, to not be grateful is to dismiss the privileges of my life. I give myself permission to feel joy, solemn appreciation, and contentment, not despite of a cruel, hard world, but because in the face of a cruel, hard, world, not recognizing that I am lucky means I am blind. It is a strange vow of hedonism — a bargain that taking pleasure is compassionate.
And I am imperfect. I am too afraid to join conversations when I imagine a response that will overwhelm me (Ferguson). I fantasized about posting a “cheat sheet” today for avoiding cultural appropriation, with cute drawings, timely for Thanksgiving, and posturing as if I have a clue. I am not an expert, but I am a writer with some talent for understanding and some bravery for thinking my thoughts merit sharing (or really, that I am at all able to organize words in a helpful way for others). I have to believe that is enough. But, for this subject, I can’t just create something that I know will get me Google search hits.
Thanksgiving represents cognitive dissonance for me. I cringe at its public celebration, but find peace in my private participation. I think, it is similar to how I feel about the words: “Merry Christmas.” I have no problem with people celebrating Christmas in their homes (except the occasional worry that they’re raising their children to be toy-obsessed, which is none of my business until they are 18 and obsessed consumers). It is when they say, “Merry Christmas,” in a way that they show their badge of assumption — that they project their rituals onto us all because they assume their holiday is everyone’s holiday — that I taste bile.
There is knowledge I do not yet have about the inappropriateness of Thanksgiving. I am not familiar with how different people of Native American decent feel about Thanksgiving. I am not aware enough of the historical nuances. I sense it is problematic, and I sense it is a colonizing holiday designed with colonizing intentions, to protect colonizing behavior (read: to overtake and destroy other cultures). I know I have research to do, history talks to have with those better educated, moments of listening to those with less privilege than me.
Yet, my political dissatisfaction does not move me to boycott the occasion. Perhaps my lack of disillusionment is a failing after all, but I think I might be doing okay. The way my family does the whole turkey-feast-football thing is still special to me. My grandfather is the grandchild of Swedish immigrants. There’s a lot of stereotypically Swedish non-spiritual, non-showy, non-sacred handling of Thanksgiving. We make a feast, with traditional things like cranberry relish and whatever, but also with our own weird food staples (some sort of jello monstrosity made with cubes of cream cheese, chopped-celery, and a can of coke). We gather, we eat, we don’t all go around and say our thanks. I think, what makes this holiday so peaceful is that my family leaves my gratefulness up to me. We all know we are reflecting on the subject, and it comes out in our words, ever so slightly, but it is private and real.
I don’t want to say, “Shut up about giving thanks.” Perhaps, at least sometimes, “thanks” begets “thanks.” I know it comforts me to read about gratefulness in the face of great trauma. But in this culture of defensive and duplicitous over-sharing, I want to ask, what are you really doing when you publicly/semi-publicly give thanks? And what do you ignore?
That is what I think matters: you must own your own gratefulness. You cannot pressure others to “say thanks,” — you don’t know them and you don’t know what they are suffering. You cannot expect them to inspire you, to give you a hint about how to feel, to lead you. You cannot feel good about patting yourself on the back when you do “thanks” right and others do “thanks” wrong. You cannot judge those who are not thankful, because you don’t know how much hell they are taking while all the while being told to be “grateful” for it. Similarly, you cannot boast gratefulness and expect reward. You cannot thrive on those “likes” and you cannot feel brave for simply saying the trees are pretty, or you’re glowy and stuff or whatever. Gratefulness is an intimate expression, perhaps better offered to yourself, your family, and to those who deserve your trust and whose trust you have earned.
Why do you share your thankfulness? Do you?