There is some screeching moral wrong in building one’s gratitude on the backs of those who do without the particular blessings for which we give our thanks. And yet, that is exactly how my gratefulness has been shaped this year. I am thankful much less often than I ought to be, honestly grateful for many fewer gifts than logic or heart would deem right. This year, the things I am praising God for and about are those things that I had always assumed to be bedrock, so much so that I’d never even taken the time to examine the possibility of being without them.
This year, I am grateful for things like citizenship - for the rights and privileges granted to me simply because of the geography of my birth. For the right to life and liberty and property, for the privilege of voting in elections, for guaranteed public education and social security. For full rights to be legally employed, for the comfort of never fearing deportation, for the knowledge that this is my country - of origin, of citizenship, of culture. For the privilege that a simple birth certificate grants, freedom from worry and certainty that there is a place where I come from, a place that claims me, a place where I belong.
I am grateful for mental health, for some indescribably delicate balance that allows me to be nonplussed with the state of things, to feel anxiety and sorrow and joy for the most part in equal measure, for coping mechanisms, support systems, perspective, prayer and a general undeserved sense of unshakeable confidence that, in the end, things will resolve into some recognizable order.
I am grateful for the love of my family, a wide foundation laid long before I was born that served - and serves still - to assure me of the possibilities for love, loyalty, compassion and goodness in every corner of the world. I am grateful for being loved, always, unconditionally, for having a home filled with people who welcome me in whenever I show up on doorsteps, no matter my state of mind or body.
I am grateful for the gift of mystery and mysticism, for the felt sense of God at work in the world, for a disposition oriented toward the divine, a way of being in the world that is always wrestling toward faith, toward God. For the inexplicable and the unresolved, the movement of the Spirit breathing life and abundance into every situation - slow and horrendous as the processes may feel.
It may be that these things are more privilege than gift, that the circumstances of my life are such that these things I take for granted - life, health, love, faith, belonging - are, in reality, privileges. That would make things harder. A gift is hard enough to use well; privilege is nigh impossible. And that’s the complicated nature of gratitude, I think. If, after I am grateful, I fail to live up to that sense of giftedness, creatureliness, belong beloved, what then?
A day of thanksgiving is, obviously, not enough. But what I wonder is, is a lifetime of gratitude even the point? Isn’t it narcissistic wallowing at best, self-satisfied oppression at worst? I am grateful. Now what?