The fallen leaves have collected into mushy piles soaked by November
rains and gift catalogues from companies I’ve never heard of are
clogging up my mailbox. Is it Thanksgiving already? How quickly
autumn transforms into winter! Samhain and the Day of the Dead are
barely past before we’re fixing turkey and making plans for the
holidays. The rush of invitations to parties and concerts pound on my
schedule with an insistence equal to the fundraising letters from
nonprofits. In this swirling sea of activity, Thanksgiving pops up
like an island of refuge.
What does it mean to be thankful? Is it an exercise in cognitive
dissonance in which we celebrate our successes and ignore our
disappointments? Is it settling for where we are and what we have
instead of dreaming our possibilities? Is it a subservient
acknowledgement to some divine being without whose grace things could
be worse? Or are we congratulating ourselves for our accomplishments
and the chances of luck from which we have benefited?
I don’t know. Most likely Thanksgiving is different things to
different people. My own vision of the day is cast in starker relief
when I imagine what the worst Thanksgiving Day could be. For me that
would be sitting alone in the corner of a steamy Kentucky Fried
Chicken gnawing on some indescribable cut of bird meat (I hope it’s
bird!) while the cold and wind whip rain splatters on the windows.
The opposite of that is sharing a meal with friends in someplace warm
Thanksgiving is the only national holiday I really care about. None
of the others matter to me. So I go to great lengths to ensure that
I’m not sitting in any KFC alone with battered bird parts on that day.
For over twenty years I have been reserving a table at a restaurant on
Seattle’s waterfront for a noon dinner. The Fisherman is right on one
of the piers with a fabulous view of Puget Sound and the Olympic
mountains beyond. They put on a fantastic feast at a reasonable price
and then send each couple home with a whole cooked turkey! The staff
is cheerful and being there at noon means we beat the rush and get
excellent and speedy service. Every year I broadcast an invitation to
email groups far and wide that any woman who has no place to go or
doesn’t like the choices open to her, can come on down and join us.
It is loads of fun, I meet new people, and I get leftovers – without
any cooking or cleanup. It’s a winning system.
Yet I have to admit that the season of Thanksgiving does tug at my
memories and prods me to reflect on the past year. I moved into a new
house this year, traveled to India, and fell in love – here, not in
India. I completed 50 hikes, bought wine in Canada, published two
Maya research papers, met all my new neighbors, and got elected
precinct committee officer. I lost fourteen pounds, lost money in the
stock market, and in the end lost the love I’d found. I made new
friends and the old ones rallied to me in time of need. I was well
pleased with the results of the elections both nationally and locally.
I’d call that a pretty good year.
So am I “thankful” for all of this? It is true that I do not waste
time on the disappointments but I don’t linger on the successes,
either. It could be that I live very much in the moment or it could
be the onset of CRS (Can’t Remember Stuff). Also I actually do live
in the realm of possibility all the time and never simply settle for
what I’ve got or where I am. I suppose the reason for that is because
I know nothing is permanent and I travel and camp out so often that
where I am is wherever I happen to be sleeping that night.
What about thanking a deity for Her good graces? Every morning when I
pray, I do thank the Goddesses for accomplishments and protections
from the day before. Could I have accomplished them without their
favor? Probably. My thanks to supernatural powers is not the
gratitude of some helpless peon who is incapable of fending for
herself but rather it acts as a closure for intentions I made the day
before. By placing my intentions “out there” it is not so easy to
rationalize them away. I have to answer for my intentions and that
means I have to see them through and accept the results. If I have
anybody to thank directly on Thanksgiving Day, it is the producers of
the food, the cooks preparing it, and the servers bringing it to our
Finally there is the question of luck. If good things happen by
simple dumb luck, who is there to thank? By the same token, if bad
things happen by simple dumb luck, who is there to blame? I have
always maintained that nothing happens from which somebody can’t make
a profit. The corollary to that is – why not me? Even if it is a
traffic ticket, or an accident, or a stupid mistake, my foot in my
mouth, an injury or even a hospitalization – there is something to be
gained. Perhaps I learn a lesson or I am confirmed in a lesson I
should have learned before. Perhaps I test my physical endurance or
force a new perspective on my thinking. The Army probably had
something to do with that. ”That which does not kill you, makes you
stronger” and “Pain is just weakness leaving the body” are two lessons
that have stuck with me ever since boot camp.
Sure, I can congratulate myself on taking advantage of the
opportunities that luck has forced upon me, or I can thank the
Goddesses for their good grace, or blame it on cognitive dissonance.
However, I choose to ascribe my good fortune to a positive attitude.
On this Thanksgiving day, I am thankful for a positive attitude.
Janice Van Cleve is a writer in Seattle who is also thankful for some
excellent wines in her wine rack and for all the little feet that
stomped those grapes. Copyright 2012.