This is the Thanksgiving season in the United States.
It goes back to the time when the European colonizers of present-day New England gave thanks to God for the unfamiliar edibles that the Native Americans, in a spirit of hospitality, taught them to shoot or gather, prepare and cook.
These days, there would be mutinous muttering if the food on our Thanksgiving tables looked unfamiliar. “Don’t tell me this stuff’s a substitute for creamed pearl onions!”
What we eat on Thanksgiving Day roots us in family tradition: “It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without . . . .” Please leave a comment on how your family finishes the sentence.
But is even turkey losing out to fast-delivery pizza, football, and shopping? And what about giving thanks?
Alexander McCall Smith, in his little book about W. H. Auden, highlights Auden’s thank-you approach to living.
Auden remembers that fogged in, “four Selves, joined in friendship,” “regaled by wine,” were able to ignore “the world of work and money / and minding our p’s and q’s.” “Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Fog” for giving us a week to reminisce, read, do crossword puzzles, and just be together.
“Auden reminds us,” in Smith’s words,
to be grateful, and that is something that we increasingly need to be reminded of in a culture of expectation and entitlement. Consumerist culture has encouraged us to complain – we have become very good at that – but it does not encourage us to say thank you. As a result, expressions of gratitude may even strike us today as surprising – something worthy of remark. But why not say thank you?
Almost every letter R. S. Thomas wrote to me included a thank-you sentence: “Thank you so much for the gift of The Brandywine. I hope I get time to read it before long” (January 6, 1995). “I’m not sure whether I owe you thanks for other letters apart from your last with its pamphlet enclosed” (October 8, 1996).
Thomas, in an untitled poem, gives thanks, without using those words, for the sobering effect of some of his parishioners:
They keep me sober,
the old ladies
stiff in their beds,
mostly with pale eyes
wintering me. . . .
But without them,
without the subdued light
their smiles kindle,
I would have gone wild,
drinking earth’s huge draughts
of joy and woe.
Somewhere between exhilaration and desperation is not a bad place to be fogged in.
To the persons and things, the good and bad experiences, that keep us there, we say, “Thank, you.”
Poetry and prose quoted in this blog:
“four Selves, joined in friendship” – “Thank You, Fog,” W. H. Auden, Thank You, Fog, 3-5.
“Auden reminds us to be grateful” – Alexander McCall Smith, What W. H. Auden Can Do for You, 133.
“They keep me sober” – untitled poem, The Echoes Return Slow, 63.