Even in what seem to be divisive and unsettling times, I see gratitude becoming more and more a part of everyday collective thought, vocabulary and practice. If I look at the larger picture of human existence, although there is ongoing suffering and strife in our world there is also a level of awareness and awakening happening.
As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday here in the United States, I have been reflecting on what this holiday means to me. For the past 20+ years I have made the Thanksgiving meal and hosted. It is my most favorite meal to make and I enjoy every part of the process, even the exhaustion. Some of our Thanksgivings have been intimate, with immediate family only and sometimes not even all of us, and some have been large gatherings with multiple families and friends. I have always believed that opening my home to any friend or acquaintance who found themselves alone on this holiday is a hallmark of my Thanksgiving tradition. So many friends have come through my house on this holiday-- some regularly and some only once on their journey passing through. I have also spent a few Thanksgivings in the care and comfort of other families when I was far away from my own home and family. For me, Thanksgiving has been a time when tradition and change often come together in companionship and a shared meal. Sometimes that change involved grieving a loss in our family, welcoming a new member or navigating new (and old) emotional territory within my passionate and sometimes volatile tribe.
This year, I have been thinking about the roots of the Thanksgiving tradition, the deeper meaning of a day in which we come together, not through a gauzy filter that hides all the blemishes and imperfections of our existence, but exactly as we are in the moment we break bread with one another. It occurs to me that the historical root of Thanksgiving begins not with the feast or even the harvest but with the great hardship and suffering of those first settlers at Plymouth Rock, only half of them surviving their first winter, weathering exposure, loss and disease in a foreign and dangerous new world. The surviving half of the settlers received a gift of life from Native Americans who encountered them in their most vulnerable moments and who shared not only resources but knowledge, a love of the land and great kindness but who taught them to survive and thrive. In what were most likely their darkest days, the settlers who survived the harsh journey across the Atlantic Ocean were saved from certain death by those willing to open their minds and community and hearts to the neediest and most wretched strangers. The fruitful harvest and feast were the result of a need arising out of great suffering and the responding gift of love, which leads me to this thought:
Gratitude is born of the willingness to both give and receive. Giving and receiving need one another to exist, to fulfill their linked destinies. Gratitude isn't merely a feeling, it is a binding agent. It is love in action.
My wish for us all on this day and every day is to continue to open ourselves to the giving and receiving of life, in its duality, wretchedness, messiness, joy, heartache and privilege, to experience the completeness, the love, the healing embrace of gratitude.