By Ian Anderson
It’s not an uncommon Thanksgiving scene: the football game is off, or at least muted, the little people chew the food they snuck to their little table before the prayer, and the big people squirm in their big chairs as they try to think up a not-so-quaint reason to be thankful; stomachs growl, aunts and uncles nod and murmur agreement at reports like, “moms,” and “a roof over our heads,” and “fellowship.” And everyone hopes the blessing on the food will be said before sentimental cousin Rosie starts to count her many blessings.
Once the food and drink and gravy begins to flow, and the television breaks the remaining silence, all the resistance and dread fades into only a slight annoyance.
We know we’re thankful, but why is it so hard to say it? Is it the closeness of family members who have been ruffling our feathers since the first hello? Is it that the same person who just gushed thankfulness about a trifle has forgotten to thank us for daily kindnesses?
It’s all the more difficult because we’ve known November is coming, and we know what that means. The pressure multiplies as we anticipate practicing and remembering thankfulness that has been pushed away. Or maybe we’re not thankful, and the thought that we should be repulses us.
So I wonder, what makes us struggle to be thankful?
Behind all the talk, there at the bottom of some corner in ourselves, is dependence. And the thought of gifts — things unearnable.
All the rest of the year haven’t we been striving to achieve a raise, or work off the last of our waist, or create something original? Didn’t we work harder than our sloth of a brother? Yet, there he sits licking the turkey fat off his chubby fingers, ignorant of his childishness.
It’s that puffy feeling, the one that makes the head swell and the pulse quicken when others describe the gifts they’ve been given, that blocks our giving of thanks.
And why should we be thankful for the things that we know we deserve? We’ve worked hard, put in countless hours, and wrestled with the anxiety of failure. And we won.
We’re independent. How could anyone around this table know just how independent we are? How hard we’ve worked, how long we’ve pushed on with no one understanding, no one even noticing?
But then, hopefully, we see it, another familiar scene: Grandpa tries to push himself up from the rocking chair, but sits back with a grunt. “Here,” says the grandchild nearest, and holds out a hand. And in the other room a baby cries. On the T.V. a teammate is helped up and off the field, one leg rendered useless.
We can try and block it out, close our eyes to it all, and we do try. The reminder that we, too, are dependent upon another — whether long ago, or now, or in times to come — sinks in and stays.
Somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten that the depth of our dependence is unknowable; even the breaths we take are not our own. We didn’t conceive existence. No matter how little or how much we have, it is all a gift.
And so we give thanks.
Ian Anderson is a teacher, a husband, and a dad. He lives with his family in Central Kansas. Occasionally, he tweets here: @ian_writes.