When I pay my bill at a local restaurant or store, if the person behind the cash register is young they always say “thank you” when handing me the receipt. But it’s usually not heartfelt. They’re just doing their job.
If the owner is in that position, however, I often feel like the thank-you is genuine and earnest because they have sunk thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars into their small enterprise, and they know that there are many competitors seeking my business.
The thank-you is heartfelt because they can only partly attribute my patronage to their hard work and good service. Their gratitude comes from not taking my business for granted.
And that gratitude is often expressed in generosity, in the donating of time and/or money. In other words, their thanksgiving becomes thanks-giving. Volunteering to serve beer at the No Gloves Nationals or becoming a sponsor of the casket races is motivated by their acute awareness that, like farmers, their success is due in part to factors beyond their control.
Thanksgiving is a national holiday which is set aside to give thanks for the blessings we’ve received during the past year.
You all know the narrative. In 1621 the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag, who had welcomed them and enabled them to get through their first year alive, shared a feast together. For the Pilgrims it was a thanks-giving meal.
We tell that story to our children but with a bit of cognitive dissonance because our national myth about Thanksgiving is now expressed more in TV commercials than in the story of what happened in 1621.
“The way Americans celebrate the holiday,” according to the U.S. Census Bureau, “has changed since colonists celebrated the first days of thanksgiving in the early 1600s. No longer strictly a holiday celebrating survival and the autumn harvest, Thanksgiving is now a time for families and friends to gather, enjoy a meal together, watch football, participate in charitable events, and begin the holiday shopping season.”
I think the holiday has morphed for many from thanksgiving to thanks-consuming.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 95% of us spend the day eating and drinking (46 million turkeys give their lives up for the day), 85% watch TV, 45% go shopping and 43% engage in socializing. Doing acts of charity appears as a footnote.
How thankful we are can be measured not only by how we spend our time but also by how we spend our money. A report last month by Financial Samurai revealed, the average percent donated to charity by levels of income is sadly very low across the board. According to several of the largest charitable foundations, the average income donated to charity ranges from just 3-5% of annual gross income.
Not surprisingly, the average percent donated to charity is the highest for lower-income households. But the absolute dollar amount donated to charity is highest for the highest-income households.
The test of how authentic a person’s gratitude is, to my way of thinking, is the amount that person gives away.
Phil Jimenez, director of the West Cook YMCA, has a healthy perspective on Thanksgiving.
He said the wealth he has is due mainly to genes and geography. In other words, his net worth is determined by the fact that he lives in the richest country in the world — geography — and the IQ he was born with — genes. Sure he worked hard to get where he is, but compared to the rest of the world, he had a head start in the race to the top, and along the way many people helped him.
That attitude of gratitude is often hard for me to conjure up. I, like a lot of Americans these days, often feel angry. Most likely, tomorrow when I “try to feel grateful,” my mind will keep drifting back to how unfair life seems to be.
Maybe it’s a matter of focus, like heading east on the Eisenhower and choosing to look at the litter along the road instead of the awesome skyline right in front of me. There’s an Ojibway saying that goes, “Sometimes I go about pitying myself, and all the time I am being carried on great winds across the sky.”
A daily devotion book for recovering alcoholics holds that “there are certainly enough things for us to worry about, grieve over, and complain about. … Gratitude is a tonic for our self-pity. Saying thank you actually opens us to receive more of life’s blessings, which sit there waiting for us to notice.”
In my experience, it not only opens us to see the many blessings we have been given but it also directs us away from clinging to stuff or relying on pleasures as the way to a satisfying life.
In other words, thanksgiving opens us to thanks-giving. Or in still other words, gratitude makes us response-able to share our wealth to help people whose suffering we are not responsible for.
Our economy in this town is based on consuming, and tomorrow I plan to do my share of it. But let’s not allow the TV commercials to control the narrative we tell ourselves. Let’s not allow tomorrow to become Black Friday Eve.
“Gratitude is so simple,” according to that devotional book, “we sometimes dismiss it while looking for a more complicated answer in our lives.”
God grant me the wisdom to turn off the TV, maybe at halftime, say “no thank you” to that third piece of pie, set aside my shopping list for Friday, take at least an hour tomorrow to just say thank you.
And then perhaps write out a check to our Community Center food pantry.