Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Yes, I know that most of what they taught us in school about Thanksgiving wasn't precisely accurate. Although I do think the historian who claims there were no turkeys (spelled "turkies" in the 17th century) at the First Thanksgiving is overstating his case. Just because nobody wrote down, "We ate turkey" doesn't mean they didn't; and certainly the wildlife in that area at that time included turkeys. In fact, it still does, if you get far enough from town.

Just because the historical details have been muddled over the years by people trying to prove a point, doesn't mean that the whole idea of Thanksgiving is baloney. The basic idea of a day when you are thankful for what you have, with no specific requirement to tie those thanks to any religious celebration, is a good one. We spend too much time worrying about what we haven't got. This may be a disorder of youth, although God knows it isn't restricted to young people; but young people are immune and immortal.
(Or think they are.) Older people are more aware of what they might not have. Most of my regular readers know that I have two replacement knees. I still give regular mental thanks for the simple, incredible fact that I can walk. Again. Without a cane, at a normal pace, for blocks, without any pain. I remember 5 years ago, looking out the window at people walking their dogs, at the joggers, and feeling a blinding envy.

I'm grateful that I live in a gorgeous house, in one of the most beautiful areas in the world, the San Francisco Bay Area. I'm grateful for the man I've been married to for twenty years. I'm grateful that I have as much as I need, and never have to wonder whether to pay the rent or buy groceries, because we always have money to do both. I'm grateful that I have a job which doesn't require me to stand for hours and be yelled at by angry customers, like the one my mother had. (The artificial knees don't stand as well as they walk...) Sometimes I'm just grateful that it's a beautiful day (it is today), or that a hummingbird is noshing on the Mexican sage in the front yard. Last week I was grateful - and laughing - to be able to watch the penguins in the Monterey Bay Aquarium hassle the photographer who was trying to take photos of them: they tried to eat his chinos, and his camera strap, when they weren't sitting on the aquarium lady and asking to be petted. (Now I know why the aquarium lady wears waterproof overalls.)

There are lots of things I don't have. I don't have an especially expensive car; but I have a good reliable comfortable vehicle. I don't have the latest snazzy techno-gadgets; but in general, I don't want the latest snazzy techno-gadgets. Although I do enjoy my iPod. I don't wear designer clothes; but at my weight, I'd look dreadful in designer clothes, all of which assume you can never be too rich or too thin. I have all the books I want. The point isn't what you have; it's whether you're satisfied with what you have.

People who are so poor they have to decide between paying the rent and the utility bill are, in fact, unhappy about what they haven't got; but those people, by God, have a right to be unhappy. The dissatisfaction I'm discussing here is usually in people who don't have to decide which bill to pay, and who are still not happy, because of what they don't have, but think they need. The ability to identify what you really need, and sort it out from what you merely want, is very liberating. It also frees you from the tyranny of things on sale: if you don't need something, and wouldn't use it, it's not a bargain, even if it is half price. This is why I don't belong to Costco: Costco's whole marketing strategy is based on getting people to buy stuff they don't really need, in quantities they don't really need, merely because it's on sale.

This has rather rambled on, but you get my point. And so I say: I'm thankful, and I hope all of you are thankful as well; more, I hope you all have things to be thankful for. Have a great day, and never eat anything bigger than your head (with thanks to B. Kliban).


  1. Anonymous8:58 PM

    Enjoyed this ramble. Thanks.

    Anonymous David

  2. Anonymous8:39 AM

    You even the people who have to decied between rent and grocries (I've been there) still have much to be thankful for. Go visit one of the "third" world countries and you will get a quick lesson in what we all have as Americans. Maybe we should have times to sit and think about all we really do have more often.

    Enjoyed you thoughts very much, hedra. Hope you and yours have a joyful holiday season.

  3. Some time ago I read an article on the subject, I can't recall where. My mind's eye image of the page looks like the San Francisco Chronicle. The article compared the living standards of two people, a medical doctor in Baghdad, and an American living in Appalachia, on permanent disability (i.e., Social Security). The American, in general, had better living conditions, better health care, and even more money. And this was back when the situation in Baghdad was just sniping at U.S. forces and a low background rumble of IEDs. I can't begin to imagine what life in Baghdad is like right now.

    What's the old saying? I felt sorry for myself because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet. Not to mention, There but for the grace of God go I.

    Thank you, stephen, and I'll wish you and all my commenters a happy and healthy holiday season as well.