Thanksgiving is upon us and this is the weekend to be thankful. It is when we take a moment to celebrate our blessings and remember what we treasure, what we have, our abundance. While I quite enjoy the tradition, I will admit that there is a part of me that feels a little discomfort with our ideas surrounding thankfulness. When we sit at our gatherings and go around the table and say what we are thankful for, we hear about friends, family, health. Good and worthy things to be thankful for. We hear about the bounty of the harvest and the food we eat, the homes we live in, the clothes on our backs – jobs, education, freedom. The list is understandable. It is good. The words of this familiar hymn reflect all of this. We are safe and we are provided for.
Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in,
Ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide
For our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come,
Raise the song of harvest home.
And yet, in all of this goodness, I am left wondering. As someone overly blessed with all of these things, it isn’t that my gratitude is absent. I am deeply thankful. But it may be that the source of my discomfort can be found in my blessings. It is a simple fact that not everyone is as blessed with these kinds of riches as I am. My thankfulness reminds me of the incredible imbalances found in the world – in my neighbourhood and across the seas. The imbalances of wealth, the imbalances of health, the imbalances of how people are treated, the imbalances of education, the imbalances of opportunity, the imbalances of warmth and love. So how do I celebrate all that is good in my life and acknowledge my great luck at the same time? For what I have, those things we are thankful for, are indeed mostly about luck. And it is in this state of privilege that I must recognize how much I am required to use the harvest of my blessings for some greater good; for some rebalancing in an unfair world.
But all that is good isn’t a permanent state – for anyone. The harsh reality of any of our lives is that we all suffer, and I am also left wondering about the things that cause pain. The things that challenge me. The things I am really not thankful for. Am I missing something important in the presence of the bad, the unpleasant, the hurtful in my life? I think so. For it is in my own pain that I learn to carry someone else’s pain. It is in my own sadness that I understand another’s sadness. It is in my own loneliness that I am able to see the lonely. When I despair, I go to a place where many, many live. I dearly need to see, feel and experience these places too, even as I struggle to bear up under their weight.
It is hard to be thankful for these difficult moments in our lives, but they offer us an opportunity to learn about resilience and they teach us to care. It can be a powerful act of generosity to walk through your own pain and then choose to use its lessons to carry another.
I rarely feel thankful for things that cause me pain, but I wonder if that is where my discomfort with Thanksgiving comes from. The strange mixture of gratitude for the good and disdain for the bad leaves me out of sorts. And while I don’t relish dwelling on painful experiences, especially those that are unresolved or even unresolvable, sometimes we must. Often we have no choice.
Perhaps as we express our thanks, we can consider our blessings and our pain. Raising the song of the harvest home – both the perfect and the bruised fruit alike. For all that we gather in our lives becomes our nourishment, and therefore part of the banquet we serve those around us. In the moments when our voices are able to sing, it is the whole picture that colours our tune. And when we cannot sing, hearing those who can is much richer knowing they have both survived the bad and rejoiced in the good. Whether we are singing or just listening, let us do it in truth; in sadness and in joy.
Come, ye thankful people, Come!