Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Year of Giving Thanks in the Midst of Suck

I can't help but feeling a little annoyed every year as Thanksgiving rolls around. It's not that I object to a day focused on being thankful, but the sap of it all gets under my skin. Every day, ought to be a day of thanksgiving. Every day ought to be a day of reflection for the abundance which we have. It also bothers me that the mythology behind this holiday involves a cooperation with a people who ensured the settlers' survival, who we then went out to subjugate and eradicate. Talk about burning bridges...we taught you and fed you and then you drove us out of the land of our ancestors where we had lived for centuries. Let us give thanks for imperialism!

Sarah Josepha Hale

And so to find meaning in Thanksgiving, I will look not to the history of the early European settlers, but rather to Abraham Lincoln's establishment of Thanksgiving as a National Holiday. (Interestingly after 40 years of pressure and lots of editorial and political writing, ala Shawshank Redemption, by one determined woman- Sarah Josepha Hale):

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one

thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

To me this is such a poignant reminder, not to just simply be thankful for blessings, to be thankful for the things which have gone well, to be thankful in our abundance- but rather a call to remember to be thankful when things are going horribly wrong. Lincoln signs this into law, in the midst of immense death and suffering and upheaval. He calls on the nation to stop and give thanks as their loved ones are far away from home and dying in unprecedented numbers.

As we come upon the end of the year, and as a Catholic- the beginning of a new liturgical year, I feel called to declare this next year: The Year of Giving Thanks In the Midst of Suck. I want to try to focus each day on being grateful for the things which are the most challenging, the most awful and the most difficult. I want to cultivate a heart of gratitude, and in doing so nurture a heart of peace. Our souls are forged and created in difficulty. Our compassion for others grows exponentially in our hardships. If we can learn to say , "Thank you!" in the midst of struggle, then I believe that we also become open to learning what there is to be learned through those hardships; we become open to being stretched and growing as human beings. And this is what I shall try to focus on throughout this next year.

So this year as we gather around our Thanksgiving tables, let us not just say thank you for those things which have gone well this year, but also let us include a thanksgiving for something which has been the absolute hardest part of our year. And then--along with me- let us try each and everyday before bed to call to mind three things this day which have gone well for which we are grateful, and three things which have just really stunk and say thank you. Let us try to habituate gratitude in the midst of our lowest points, and live Thanksgiving throughout the year.


  1. Shannon...
    3 things I'm grateful for this year....
    my kids are happy
    my health is good
    I have friends
    3 things that I'm thankful for even though they suck....
    I've lost my faith
    the world is hurting
    often times I don't do anything about either one of them...
    Love your Blog....but you're way too smart to be friends with me! :) Happy Thanksgiving! Karin

  2. Oh hogwash, Karin! I never even graduated :)

    I guess I ought to put a list:
    I am thankful:
    1. that my marriage (Thurs. was our anniversary) is really good right now
    2. that my kids are all healthy and active and intelligent
    3. for being able to be home full time with my kids and to be able to homeschool them
    Things that are el stinko, for which I will say thank you:
    1.for our house not selling (it is helping me to learn to be less attached to my own plans and expectations)
    2.for the busy and crazy and hectic schedule we have with all of the kids' activities
    3. for the troubles I have sleeping

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  4. ...

    I never really got Thanksgiving anyway. After reading the diatribes of Pioneer Woman I decided it's not worth it.
    Try switching to Saint Nicholas's birthday. Whee!