Thursday, November 26, 2009
Regardless of whether or not you are religious, the better aspect of holidays is that they drag you (sometimes kicking and screaming) into a reflective mode.
The Jewish High Holidays, for example, are frequently about atonement (with a bit of self-flagellation for added zest!).
Thanksgiving, when not about the stresses of travel, family expectations, digestive concerns and a bunch of eagerly begun but ultimately incomplete conversations, actively encourages reflection. Its origins, no matter how distorted by time and history, are rooted in something rather simple and smart, which is to give thanks for our blessings and to realize how much we have for which we should be grateful.
It is not easy in these very difficult times to do and the encouragement to do so, no matter how seemingly external, is welcome. Indeed, it is all so scary right now that we often take refuge in our misery, more comfortable with the demons we live with than the angels we don't recognize. After all, so many are out of work or have taken jobs that don't cover the bills and bring about endless frustration. Rent is dear and hard to come by, and the growth of living costs is in no way matched by growth in our income.
And so, sadly, people seem to have switched into an "every-man-for-himself" mode. You see this on the streets and public transportation, as people push past and knock into you without a word of apology. Employees, fearfully following the scripts of their employers' increasingly absurd and usurious policies, lose their humanity when dealing with customers in need. And clearly we're following an example laid out by the blatant bad behavior on Capitol Hill these days. It seems that winning or taking power is all that matters, to the extent that the real function of society--to care for ALL of us, especially those less well off--has fallen by the wayside. The social contract we all subscribe to is rendered meaningless when the milk of human kindness (let alone civility) has run dry.
So while Thanksgiving may appear to some as "outmoded" in its quaint gauntlet for appreciation, such thoughts are needed now more than ever. We need to be thankful for a safe place to live, which is not afforded to all. We need to be grateful for our health, which can change at any moment and, unless things are fixed soon, can lead us to physical and financial ruin in the blink of an eye. We need to appreciate our loved ones, the folks who love us NOT for our official role in their lives but for who we are, what we share of ourselves and what we give to each other. We should be thankful for mirth and music, for creativity and imagination, for loyalty and the ability to disagree with someone without a loss of respect. Depressions, both financial and emotional, threaten to bring us down individually and as a nation--we should be grateful to those who rally us, actively trying to find a solution, picking us up when we are at our lowest. I'm all for separation of Church and State, but the value of true humanity, that runs through all religious doctrine, should indeed be part and parcel of how we function as a nation and as a people. Those who trumpet values should examine real human costs first, before price tags.
Supporting one another costs little. A smile to someone across a commerce counter costs next to nothing, but gives so much. Civility takes extra effort, as does respect, but it is perhaps our most valuable commodity. On this holiday and all days, maybe we should be most grateful we have these gifts to give--and we should give of them freely. Nothing else shows the better aspect of humanity.