“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice.” – Meister Eckhart von Hochheim, 13th Century German theologian and philosopher.
Aside from the patriotic overtones, for most people, Thanksgiving Day is a religiously-based holiday. According to myth, the Pilgrims stepped off of the Mayflower onto Plymouth Rock, shook hands with the natives they met there and spent a year being one with the land. In celebration the colonists sat down with all their new American Indian friends and shared a feast, praising God for their good fortune.
Of course, it didn’t happen that way at all. About the only truth to the story is that Pilgrims came to the New World in search of religious freedom. In a sense, even that fact is a bit distorted since they were essentially forced to leave their homeland after defying the rule of the Church of England.
After enduring months at sea, the settlers hit landfall and soon after proceeded to slaughter the Native Americans they encountered by the dozens. To be fair, once the “pale faces” started the big ruckus they got as good as they gave, but killing is killing and that’s hardly something for which spiritual folk should be thankful. Then there was the tremendous famine and disease that followed, including a deadly strain of smallpox they brought over and gave to the Indians.
Clearly, none of that would make a very good animated holiday television special. No one wants to think of Thanksgiving in such a negative light – regardless of whether your ancestors were on the Mayflower or hiding in the bushes when they got here. I’d like to think we’ve overcome that kind of ignorance and brutality in the name of religion, but unfortunately, it’s still out there.
I believe we would all be better off if more people deferred for a moment from praising the all-powerful yet invisible forces in our lives and started appreciating those around us who give of themselves in an effort to make our lives better.
It is quite possible that we spend far too much time worrying about which religious icon to extol for our good fortunes while ignoring flesh and blood individuals in our lives who are far more directly responsible. It could be argued that were it not for some sort of divine intervention, people wouldn’t do the things they do in the first place. That may be true, but I generally believe in applying credit where it is due.
You might say Grace at every meal, or thank God when you find your missing keys, but when was the last time you thanked your minister, a police officer, firefighter, teacher, or someone serving in the military? When did you last offer your appreciation to a friend who stopped by just to cheer you up, or a clerk in a store who went out of their way to help you with something?
Every day of our lives we come in contact with people who affect the decisions we make which guide our destiny. The simplest action resulting from a seemingly insignificant connection can often alter the entire path of life in ways that are incalculable.
Imagine that you met your spouse or significant other during a party at a friend’s house. Since you chose to attend the party and your friend was gracious enough to invite you both of those actions would alter your life forever.
Speaking of “life,” when was the last time you thanked your parents or other family members? Believe me parents never get enough praise for the sacrifices made to raise their children and by the time most people understand what their mom or dad did for them, it is often too late. Our parents deserve far more, but a simple “thank you” is at least a down-payment on a debt you could never fully repay.
If you are a religious or spiritual person who feels that God is responsible for all things, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing at all. I am, however, encouraging you to offer at least as much appreciation to the human beings in your life who may be responding to that influence.
So this Thanksgiving, in addition to honoring a spiritual power, take a moment to acknowledge deeds performed by those around you who directly affect your well-being. Whoever your god may be, I’m reasonably sure he would see that as praise for his work as well.
Gery L. Deer is an independent journalist based in Jamestown, Ohio. More at www.gerydeer.com