Thanksgiving began with people thankful for surviving in a new land. They thanked those who already lived there for helping them, they were thankful for the bounty of the land they had come to, that the land had provided for them. They gave thanks for their community.
Today, Thanksgiving is one of the only major holidays uncorrupted by stuff. We don’t feel compelled to give unneeded gifts, we don’t need to send cards. All we traditionally do is join in a meal with family and friends.
I love Thanksgiving. I love being reminded of the gift of our food, the people and lands that provide it; of the gift of my community of family and friends.
We no longer live in a new land, but I am thankful for those places that feel new and wild to me and that help me feel new. It is but one of the many things I take all too much for granted. Like air I can feel safe breathing, water I can feel safe drinking, a community in which I can feel safe speaking my opinions.
So what does giving thanks mean? I actually believe the mere act of truly giving thanks is of fundamental importance, for both the thanker and the one being thanked, whether before a meal, to a loved one, to a kind act in daily life. It helps me to remember that those things I am thankful for should not be taken for granted. Thanking helps guide my actions.
I often hear the word “lucky” used in expressions of thanks. It is a word that I feel diminishes much of what is being expressed. I may be lucky to buy a winning lottery ticket or to drive through town with every stoplight green, but it is not by luck that I was born with a body, heart and head that function. Nor is it due to luck that I can breathe the air I breathe or am allowed to publicly disagree with political leaders without fear of reprisal. Some of these things are blessings, gifts too large to be “lucky” to receive. Others, clean water, democracy, may very well disappear if not understood both as gifts and as responsibilities.
Whether it is living with someone for many years or having kids or parents, or both, most blessings are mixed with their fair share of curses. It takes hard work to keep them rich and good. Wild lands to explore and wild rivers to ride also require meetings with land managers and letters to congressional representatives to remain wild. Clean air requires slugging through thick documents about pollution controls, and sometimes working with lawyers, to force power plants and gas wells to use proper equipment. The ability to speak your mind is meaningless if you don’t exercise it.
On Veterans Day we are reminded that “freedom isn’t free.” Nothing worth having is. Give thanks, eat heartily, laugh and argue with your family and friends. And then, remember to roll up your sleeves and get to work protecting what you are thankful for.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Dan Randolph is executive director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.