Preparing to be Thankful

Yesterday afternoon I was running errands in the village, and saw the shop display pictured below, with the single word “thankful” in large letters stretched across the width of the window.

It had been a long day, the most stressful part of which had been giving notice to my current job that I will be leaving for a new job in two weeks. [N.B.: I don’t discuss my professional life on social media, but suffice to say I’m staying in the law.] This has been a long time coming, but my departure has some elements of mixed feelings surrounding it.  I’m thankful for the opportunities I have had, but I’m also thankful for the opportunities I’m about to have, in order to grow professionally and personally.

Although many things still need to be worked out, since my life is far from perfect, it struck me when looking at that store display that even in the trying times, the difficult moments when you think everything is absolutely terrible, there is still much to be thankful for.  Sure, thankfulness often comes from something terrific, like landing a new job, beating an illness, or achieving a personal goal.  Those things are pretty obvious causes for thankfulness and indeed celebration.  Yet so often in our focus on the big things, we overlook being thankful for absolutely all of the things, great and small, that make up life around us.

Of course, there’s a perfectly sound reason why we don’t stop to analyze every single good thing that we have to be thankful for as we go through our day.  If we had to reflect all the time on those things we take for granted, yet for which we should be thankful – clean drinking water, a good newspaper, an affectionate pet – we would achieve nothing.  Appreciating and expressing gratitude for the smell of wet autumn leaves alone, for example, would take ages.

With the upcoming American celebration of Thanksgiving, marked by the store window display I spotted, the notion of being thankful begs the question, “Thankful to whom?” A cold and meaningless universe, where the existence of life is but a fluke? A senseless commingling of chemical bonds with no purpose? A bunch of dead, fundamentalist Protestants who got kicked out of England centuries ago, like everyone else who didn’t conform?  The Pillsbury Dough Boy?

Well, okay, we can be thankful to him for crescent rolls at Thanksgiving, but you see my point. In perceiving that there are lovely, good things around you, part of the gift of life you have been given, you quickly come to realize that you are overwhelmed on a daily basis with blessings for which to be thankful. In doing so, you come to realize the complete dependence of the created upon the Creator, for every moment life continues, even in its most difficult passages.

Thanksgiving is not Christmas, and there is no Advent season to prepare for it.  Nevertheless, perhaps a good idea for this particular holiday would be to come to Thanksgiving Day with a prayer of actual thanksgiving already written on your heart, for the many blessings you do have.  Do so because you have already taken the time, even if only once a day, to count just some of them. And let us then, indeed, be truly thankful.


Thanks to You, Gentle Reader

As The Courtier is in the country with his family for Thanksgiving, where fortunately internet connections are still somewhat slow and spotty, please consider this his vote of thanks and appreciation for your readership.  Today Americans pause to reflect on the great bounty that God has given in this magnificently beautiful land, a place where despite the best efforts of ignorance and darkness, common-sense principles still matter, and continue to hold influence over how the nation acts.  Many will say, nevertheless, that despite whatever America says about itself, that ours is a flawed nation – and so it is, because like any venture run by human beings, we do not always get it right.  And yet we do, so often, get it right, that it must be said, however bombastically it may come off, that ours is the greatest nation in the history of the world.

We are not great because we have built impressive monuments and feats of engineering, or created unbelievable masses of wealth and works of art, or invented all sorts of technologies that have changed the world and made it better.  We have done all of these things, built on the hard work of individuals and not on the forced labor of monarchs or cults of personality. And this latter part is the key to it all, for this is a country where, among other things, one can choose where and how one wants to live; the way to earn one’s bread; and when and where and how to speak one’s mind without fear of reprisal.  It is a place where one cannot be forced to bow and scrape to any individual, class, or committee, where decency, fairness, a fair shake, and the Golden Rule still matter.

We are great because this is the one country in the history of mankind which has helped the greatest amount of people around the globe to improve their fates and to achieve a say over their own lives, often in the face of totalitarianism and absolutism, thanks to our continued belief and avocation of certain virtues.  And no matter how great or powerful this country may be, the first among these virtues is one practiced by the first colonists of this land on this day, and enshrined in proclamations and laws enacted and followed by our democratically elected representatives for centuries, from the first colonial governors, to George Washington, to today, with a particular nod to the influence of Abraham Lincoln on cementing the permanency of this day’s celebration.  We all pause and acknowledge, with grateful, national humility, what we have been given, undeservedly, through Divine Providence, in having the chance to live and make our way freely in a land as beautiful as this one.

So as The Courtier and his family gather together to say thank you, one thing which he is particularly thankful for are the readers of these pages, who often provide so much to think about, learning more about the world in which we all live and trying to make a small corner of it a little bit better, with the limited abilities one has by which to do so.  May you receive many blessings and good things, gentle reader, this day and always, for you and for those whom you love.  And may God continue to bless these United States of America.

“The First Thanksgiving” by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe (1914)
Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Massachusetts

Over The Limit and Through The Malls

While The Courtier is not prepared to stop bathing, and infest himself with either lice or Timothy Leary-esque logorrhoea, he must admit that he is beginning to wonder whether we have gone too far in our embrace of consumerism, when it comes to marking the times and seasons of life here in the United States. This has always been, thank goodness, a nation of consumers who actually like to consume, rather than falsely claiming that they do not like having a wide range of goods and services at various price points to choose from – whether we are talking about butter, guns, or tablet computers. And yet, there has to be some point at which the love of “stuff”, such as it is, makes way for the love of families, friends, and country.

Yesterday the Twitterverse started chatting about the fact that a number of national retailers decided to start their upcoming Black Friday sales early: and by early, either on Thanksgiving itself, or at midnight as Thanksgiving rolls into Black Friday. The national news media is now picking up on this story, as retailers across the country are adopting earlier and earlier opening times to try to take advantage of fewer shoppers during our economic malaise. According to one report from CNN:

This year marks Target’s earliest opening ever. Target, Best Buy, Macy’s, and Kohl’s are all opening at midnight on Thanksgiving eve. Wal-Mart recently announced plans to open its doors to the public at 10 p.m., then Toys R Us followed suit, announcing it would open most stores as early as 9 p.m. the day before Black Friday.

For my non-American readers, it should be explained that Black Friday is the day which falls after Thanksgiving Day, a national holiday commemorated on the fourth Thursday in November. Thanksgiving of course, needs little or no introduction, other than to say it is a near-universally beloved holiday in this country, as being one of the very few times of year when overworked Americans take the day off. Most everything other than basic services grinds to a complete halt, so that people can gather with family and friends, and be thankful that they have each other, and this great country to live in, with all of the bounty, hope, and possibilities available here.

Black Friday has been, for many years, a day that generates so much retail sales volume, because many people have or take the day off, and want to start their Christmas shopping, that many retailers go “into the black” in their accounting ledgers for the year, just from the sales generated on this one day. Traditionally, many American retailers held off promoting their Christmas merchandise and putting up their decorations, or making their special seasonal sales and discount pitches, until the day after Thanksgiving. Fortunately, some such as Nordstrom still do – and they should be applauded for it.

Let no one accuse this scrivener of being some sort of economic hypocrite, protesting against capitalism while tweeting from my iPhone and wearing an overpriced, fleece-insulated jacket made in China out of plastic fibers picked up from a yuppie outdoors retailer. When it comes to the embrace of the wealth of consumer products available for purchase, this truly is the land of plenty. The Courtier thoroughly enjoys patronizing retail establishments of all sorts, and savours finding a great bargain on a bold sartorial item or the like.

Yet there is no real justification other than pure greed to explain opening a toy store at 9:00 pm on Thanksgiving, since the sole purpose of such a promotional tactic is to persuade people to leave their families on a holiday, in order to spend their money on products which are not necessities. Nor is there any moral imperative to explain why people should be encouraged to leave the house before midnight, in order to stand in line in the cold and the dark just to purchase a new blender at a discount. In these and other cases, consumers can make such purchases in the morning, if they choose, after they have recovered from the feast shared with the family the evening before.

Moreover, all of these shops need to be staffed, in order to provide their products to shoppers. While the corporate heads who decided to open on Thanksgiving night are tucked soundly in their beds, their employees will be cutting short Thanksgiving dinner, or possibly avoiding their turkey altogether so as not have the tryptophan turn them into somnambulants. They will down pots of coffee in order to head in to work, to provide sales assistance, security, stocking, and the other services of their employment, without which these overnight sales cannot happen.

The only explanation for the tawdry policies and tactics adopted by those major retailers engaging in this practice is that the worship of Mammon has taken over nearly any semblance of remaining decency and respect for American values, both on the part of these retailers, and on the part of those consumers who will respond to their siren song. Putting profit ahead of one of the most cherished and long-lived American traditions, and one which thank goodness has virtually no consumer goods attached to it other than the foods we eat, is insulting to the people of this country. And those among our citizenry who choose to participate in it ought to be equally ashamed of themselves, particularly those who will push their credit cards to their limits just to take advantage of hoarding goods from the malls and shopping centers that they really do not need.

The present state of the union is one marred by spiraling debt burdens, tremendous levels of unemployment, smelly anarchism, and so on. Americans need holidays like Thanksgiving to step back from all of this, and to be with those they care about – to share a good meal, to relive old memories, and to make new ones. Do not doubt that this writer is no leftist, in any sense of that term. However, it still must be said that it is a great pity that our national retailers cannot see past their bottom line, in this instance, to recognize that some things are more sacred than the pursuit of profit, and that some shoppers will put materialism at the top of their priority list.

“The Road, Winter” by Currier & Ives (1853)