Thursday, November 25, 2010

let them eat turkey

I never have cared all that much for Thanksgiving. I’m not sure if that's because as an AmeriCanadian I have always had two of them to contend with, or if it’s because I have never personally been a proponent of the Cult of the Turkey, around which the whole thing seemed to be predicated. To my mind, a turkey is just an oversized, slightly-less tender-and-tasty chicken.

I know that upon reading this, serious Cult members will most likely call for my head to be ceremoniously carved from my body, but in light of the nature of this particular holiday, let me just say that a more appropriate response would be to be grateful that there is that much more turkey flesh available for the rest of you (at least, those of you who are meatitarians) to gnaw on.

And that’s what it’s about, right—gratitude? The pilgrims, thrilled that the natives had done the incredibly un-perspicacious thing of not letting them starve to death, held a party to celebrate the end of a successful harvest. Hooray for not starving, right? That, at least, is where it began. I, on the other hand, have never starved to death—nor even almost starved to death. As the bland, middle-class child of middle-class parents, even the memory of my ancestor’s lean years has faded, and the only times I have ever gone without a meal have been by choice or poor planning. The same goes for my students—except even more so, because as upper-middle class children almost a generation younger than I, it is impossible for many of them to even conceive of a world where whims aren’t quickly fulfilled, let alone needs.

When I was in high school, a friend of mine named Daniel, who attended a hyper-conservative Baptist school in Lima, Peru, complained to me about his last school assembly, in which the principal had called them in to harangue them for an hour on ingratitude, which he called, “the worst of all sins.”

Now, I am as suspicious as the next guy of hyper-conservative Baptists haranguing about sin, but even the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant (whom many see as thoroughly hostile to religion in general and Christianity in particular) famously said that “Ingratitude is the essence of vileness.” I think that this is true. I think that if your parents give you every material thing and leave you nothing for which to be grateful, then there is little motivation to live with respect and love for the objects and creatures which fill your life. I think that this very fact is responsible for the disrespect so many of our young people have for themselves and the world around them, and I think it has to change—and soon.

Perhaps the faltering of our economy will do something to rectify this, stirring in us some small recognition of the fact that the money we have for so long spent at will has grown on trees planted and nurtured by others—trees at perilous risk from the poisons we have dumped over and around them for so long.

My hope is that this thanksgiving we will be grateful not for the bounteous excesses to which we have grown accustomed, but for the basics of our very sustenance—the gifts of life, home, family, and friends. I may not love turkey, but as I gather with family and friends, I plan to keep my chicken-loving heresies to myself and eat it with the gratitude I can imagine was felt by my forbears in the simpler days of yesteryear. 

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