We Americans are often derided for being thankful on only one day of the year only and being self-absorbed for the other 364 days. Certainly, there are times when we are not thankful but should be. However, perhaps the 364-day part is a bit of an exaggeration.
It all depends on what is meant by the word “thankful” or “grateful.” When our cupboards are full and our homes are warm and possessions are many, it’s so easy to be thankful and grateful then. Here in America, the land of plenty, there are many people with full cupboards, warm homes, and countless possessions. It’s easy to shout from the highest mountain how grateful and beholden you are when your life is full of abundance, although there are many who still will not express it.
There are, however, many people in America who do not share in that “plenty.” They do not find it easy to broadcast their gratitude and thankfulness. They are exhausted and tired and weakened. They are hungry and poor and insecure. Smiling and saying that life is wonderful is not easy for them, although you will often find them doing it.
If we forget to always be thankful when we have plenty, are we selfish and rude? If we are angry and sad because we do not have plenty, are we just sour and jealous? I think not in both instances. I think we are just human beings caught up in typical human feelings. It’s okay to be human when we are human.
But on those other 300 or so odd days when we are not expressing gratitude out loud, we are still sending a message loud and clear. We are waking up early--much earlier than we want to--and we are working hard all day. We are caring for children or parents or relatives or others. We are donating and sharing when we can. We are shoveling our walks, raking our leaves, cleaning our homes, taking our children to school. We are fighting through the traffic, giving our seat to the elderly on a bus, making meals for our loved ones (often out of very little food).
We do not do these things all the time, but we do them very often. Some of us do them more than others, but this is not about who does more and who does less. It’s about us. It’s about living our lives the best way we can, and that’s different for each person. It’s about trying hard, failing often (more often than we can count), and getting up the next day and trying again. It’s about pushing ourselves when we’re exhausted, loving others when we’re hurting inside ourselves, and caring for stray animals.
It’s also about trusting in the benevolence of the Earth when we plant a garden, knowing that we will reap her abundance. It’s about still believing in goodness and kindness when anger and rage are all that we are shown. It’s about holding out hope when all odds are against us and have been against us for decades. It’s about that tiny light that we cannot seem to let go of.
And if these things do not represent gratitude, if they do not represent thankfulness, I don’t know what does. Words are just words. Symbols are just symbols. In the end, they only have the meaning we give to them. It’s the cup of kindness that endures, that lifts the tired and blackened soul up to heaven. And this is what we are.