We have all just completed celebrating what was recently referred to as a civic religion, observance of Thanksgiving, a uniquely American holiday when we commemorate what, reputedly, the forefathers did on their first harvest.
We know that story is fiction but it’s one that we continue to hold sacred, telling it every year, ever embellishing the narrative of how Thanksgiving is meant to bind us close to our origins. The retelling portrays an easier and softer life than the bitter hardscrabble beginnings of the colonies.
It matters less that we don’t get the montage of the Pilgrims and the Native Americans in the proper proportion. What is important is that we continue to use that holiday as a reason to get together with family, close friends.
Commonly, at these gatherings, we may pause, formally and informally, to reflect on how, during the preceding year, we received many blessings: an abundance of material wealth, spiritual growth and other gifts.
And then comes Black Friday, the biggest, most profitable day for retailers. That day of bargain shopping is quickly followed by the “12” days of Christmas — now actually nearly 25 days — from midnight Dec. 1 to midnight, Dec. 24.
Once again, we are in the middle of the holiday season and only in America do we spend so much time and energy on cooking and eating and in fellowship for one day of collective “civic religious” observance to then immediately go to the malls.
I took a few minutes — during Thanksgiving — to think about the past year and all the things for which I’m thankful.
Please indulge me:
1) I have peace of mind, on most days. There is so much more room for improvement, to replace negative thoughts with positive and affirming thoughts.
2) I have good health. There is nothing perfect about any of us. After all, we are born to die one day.
3) I can count my friends on one hand, thank you.
4) I have chosen every single member of my “family,” even though there have been some accidents of birth not of my choosing.
5) I live in a country where there has been relative prosperity and freedom from civil unrest.
6) I have the freedom to express my opinions.
7) I can choose to be happy — or not. The list is actually longer but too personal to share.
As I reflect on these things, I become motivated to want to live more loudly, proudly and purposefully.
Also during this time that we are practicing our national civic religion, it is also an occasion for growing political debate and discourse, offering us opportunities to behave more intentionally.
In giving thanks, we ought to bow down to the altar of choice that doesn’t exist in most of the known world. Our democratic system — imperfect, yes —offers many more options for living as full human beings, expressing individual artistic and creative statements, in protest, in and out of harmony with the majority, etc.
I look forward to the upcoming months filled with soldiers coming home from Iraq, who will be jostling for housing, jobs, a place in society; to our collective adjustment to having more peace abroad; to a presidential election; to the exploration for the building blocks of life on Mars and for all the new insights spilling from my fellow human beings.
For all this, and more, I give thanks.
Antonia Williams-Gary is a consultant with Miami-based Savings and Grace Enterprise. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo: Antonia Williams-Gary