Thursday, November 25, 2010

Rethinking Thanksgiving

being a dad made me less cynical

I once lost my love of Thanksgiving.  I enjoyed the gravy and the burnt marshmallows on top of the sweet potatoes.  However, something about the holiday didn't fit.   I knew the "real story" of Thanksgiving, where the pilgrims colonized the indigenous people groups.  I knew the commercialism of the day and I experienced the lack of gratitude from shoppers at the grocery store.  If you need a reality check to see that the world is dark, simply spend a week working at a supermarket chain.  You'll see how people dehumanize people in subtle ways.

I conjured up an anti-thanksgiving holiday called Cynic's Day.  Here people would hold contests to complain about the world and then play rigged carnival games that no one can win.  When this is all over, they offer gifts that no one wants, like balloon animals and buckets of stale pop corn.

I was a spoiled suburban sophomore with a cynical streak and an axe to grind against America and capitalism and history and everything else that had formed me into the person I was.

Things changed in college.  I still had the cynical streak, but I watched friends who couldn't go home to see their family.  They would meet up at Brad and Debbie's and we would all eat pie and watch Planes, Trains and Automobiles.  Maybe it was my time spent in working class homes or maybe it was the subtle reshaping of my mindset by a slightly cynical sage, but I began to see the utility of thanksgiving.  Gratitude was necessary for survival.

I began to see that optimism was not a sign of weakness and that, within the framework of a broken world, I could find gratitude in a venti coffee or a deep conversation or a sunset (as cliche as that might be).  Marrying Christy helped melt away some of the cynicism.  She often presented a new perspective on the very things I railed against and she found delight in little things I had often missed.

Having kids simply magnified this mentality. Toddlers rejoice in the simple and give thanks to the Universe or to God or to whatever it is they vaguely conceive as being in control of fate. I learned to dance and to smile and to laugh and to sing often and spontaneously.

I still know the "real story" of Thanksgiving, but now I see the pilgrims a bit more like myself - people trying to sort through the notion of God and life and sometimes committing social injustice in the name of survival.  I see them as broken people who were at least able to admit they were broken and who were able to turn once a year and say, "I don't deserve any of this.  Thank you."

So now I embrace Thanksgiving.  Don't get me wrong, I still don't understand the parades and the Cowboys or Lions and I'll never get mincemeat pie or black olives.  But I see value in stopping once a year, admitting the tangible side of grace and saying simply, "I don't deserve any of this.  Thank you."

1 comment:

  1. Very well said, John. Typing this from my phone, so no lengthy respose right now other than to say I'm excited to read some "non-teacher" thoughts from you!