Thanksgiving, It’s What We’re All About

By George Mantor

“Bliss—a-second-by-second joy and gratitude at the gift of being alive.”

David Foster Wallace

Imagine the insane courage it took for the early settlers to board rickety boats and sail off in the general direction, hopefully, of a newly discovered continent.

It was an arduous journey and the odds of survival were not good.  Fierce storms were inevitable, the stench was unbearable, and malnutrition was rampant.

They were saying good bye, forever probably, to the only life they had ever known; to go to a place where there was nothing waiting for them but uncertainty.

In the case of the Mayflower which set sail on September 6, 1620 for Virginia, the Pilgrims were battered about by winter weather until the main beam cracked and the boat began to take on water.  They were blown so far off course that they wound up in Newfoundland in the dead of winter.

But, that didn’t stop them.  They never made it to Virginia but they did finally drop anchor at Cape Cod on November 11th.

As soon as they arrived, they had to begin the difficult task of clawing out enough food to survive long enough to even create any sort of semi-permanent shelter.

When it was dark, it was dark.  When it was cold, it was cold.  When the food ran out, you starved.  These were the harsh realities of life for the earliest immigrants.

Only half made it through the first winter.  They would not have survived were it not for the generosity and compassion of the local Indians.

Later, we would repay them by introducing them to diseases for which they had no immunity, stealing their land, and destroying their sacred way of life.

We did it in the name of progress, democracy, and the American way as we set out to build this great nation of project housing and toxic waste.  But, this is not the time for me to go all patriotic.  This isn’t Jingo bells.  It’s about Thanksgiving in a time of struggle, disappointment, and uncertainty.

It’s easy to be grateful when everything is going well. Over 47 million of our fellow American’s, mostly women, children, and the elderly are on food stamps.

Why does such a wealthy country, under God since 1954, at war with poverty since 1960, giving out Fiat money to banks since 1971, fighting terror since September 11, need to have such a large and terrified underclass?

The real kick in the gut is that there are no actual stamps.  Just a debit card from JP Morgan Chase, a for profit company.  If there is widespread and growing poverty, somebody has to be making a profit off of it.

There is something cynical about that.  The modern company store to which people owe their souls.  Chase what matters?

How did we get so far off course?  It’s easy to say we are a Christian nation, but there is no evidence of that.  The average age of a homeless person where I live is nine years old.  If that doesn’t beg the question “What would Jesus do?”, I don’t know what does. We need to take a step back and analyze our priorities.

When we first arrived in this country we all worked together to survive.

Now, we have been convinced that it is okay if some don’t survive in order to allow others to have more than they will ever need.  To hear some tell it, that’s what makes America great.

I think what makes a country great is the quality of life of its lowliest citizens.

For a long time, we have been focused on our false prosperity and things.  We were convinced we needed bigger houses, badder SUVs, and exotic kicks from Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo.

It drove the false economy, but did it drive the essential quality of life…happiness?

I never really liked the boom.  I felt like the pressure was always on to get the next escrow closed, and the next loan funded, and the next training session planned, and the next radio program written, and the next workshop, and the next article published, and the next recruit signed up.  And for what?

I’ve lived in the same old house for over three decades.  I drive a Toyota pickup that I bought new in1989.  I would say that I’m a bad dresser, but that doesn’t go far enough. My wardrobe is mostly hoodies and shorts covered with cat hair.

I wasn’t trying to get rich.  I wanted to know what it felt like to hire someone and give them a paycheck.  I wanted to build something that would provide for me after I reach my middle earlies.

I did build that.  And, the bankstas burned it down

The boom was a period of anxiety for me.  It wore me out.  Between payroll, office rent, furniture and equipment leases, I had to come up with $45,000 every month.

I rode it up and I rode it down.  On the way up, I invested virtually every extra penny expanding my business.  On the way down, I hung on until all of my resources were gone.

And now, I’m just glad it’s over.  It was like juggling chainsaws

I’ll admit a little concern about my future.  I don’t have the time, energy, or desire to build it again.   As much as they have tried to reassure everyone that Social Security will be there for us boomers, I’ve seen enough to be extremely doubtful.

Private pension funds have been looted and the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation reported an annual deficit of $34 billion.  This is the tenth straight year of deficits as corporations like Hostess find legal loopholes to terminate their responsibility for pension money spent on other things.

The reality of our situation is that change is coming, which isn’t necessarily good or bad. Being grateful isn’t dependent upon the state of things around us.  Being grateful is what turns life’s ups and downs into important events in the continuum of our voyage of discovery.

Pity the person who has never felt pain, hurt, loss, disappointment, bewilderment, failure, grief and defeat; whose life has been one of remarkably good fortune.

What is there to be grateful for when it all comes so easily?  How will this person cope when that little rain which must full into each of our lives finally comes for them, in one massive torrent all at once?

Those early settlers had to work hard every minute just to eke out subsistence.  They suffered exhaustion, tedium, deprivation, anxiety and fear.

Yet, they may very well have been happier than most of us today.  I think it is axiomatic to say that the less you have, the more you tend to appreciate the little you do have.

In 1621, the Pilgrims had their first harvest in the new world.  To this, they responded by giving thanks.  Not with some glutinous pig-out, but by solemn prayer.  Giving thanks through prayer was part of the Pilgrims’ expression of faith.

What we think of today as Thanksgiving is more akin to a harvest festival.  Still, despite having already gone over the fiscal cliff, there is much to be thankful for.

Amid the very real possibility that we might look back upon this period as “the good old days”, it is important to take stock, and be truly thankful for those things that matter most.

Happy Thanksgiving, 2012.