It’s too easy to make fun of a holiday like Thanksgiving. It’s too easy to roll your eyes at the way people sit down to appalling amounts of food and go out to spend a small nation’s GDP worth of shopping—interspersed with a humble litany of thanks, as though being thankful for excess cancels out its excessive quality.The list of things I’m thankful for is pretty similar to everyone else’s. I’m thankful for good health, which means I can run a lot and eat even more. I’m thankful for my friends, who will never truly understand how much they help me. I’m thankful that there’s a guy who can make me smile just by reciting the alphabet and can make me blush by saying et cetera. Funny thing, though: on Thanksgiving I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my blessings—not even this year, when I have so much abundance it’s disgusting. This is not because I’m ungrateful; in fact, I’ve been grateful nearly every day of my life. Grateful and happy, however, are very different, and so instead of thinking of things for which to give thanks, I think about times when I was grateful and miserable, when despite my privileges I still had a hard time finding a reason to keep going. This is not because I’m a naturally negative person. No, really. I’ve spent more holidays feeling sad and lonely than joyful and loved, but understand this: I have not had a hard life. Not even close. That’s all the more reason to think about just how bad things can get.
If you believe the more commonly accepted versions of history, Thanksgiving was borne out of two exceptionally difficult periods in America’s past. It was not about living large and being thankful for it; rather, it was about the desperate need for help during tough times. I think about all of this because just as you are told to think about people less fortunate than you are, my nature is to think of people who may be even more unhappy than I once was. It scares the crap out of me to think what that must be like, but it’s not hard to imagine. They may be hungry and far from home. They may be sick and weary, fighting and dying. Or they may simply be lonely, which is less dramatic but far, far more pervasive. Imagine that pain. Imagine trying to get through the day. Then imagine a day that can make you believe things will get better. Imagine it’s this day. Perhaps someday it will be.