Saying “Thank you” is one of the first social graces we teach children.
One of the criticisms of Alexa, a popular voice-controlled virtual assistant — an electronic tower you can set in the center of your home and order to play songs, solve math problems, give you the time, the temperature and even tell knock-knock jokes — is that it conditions children to be demanding.
Alexa doesn’t require that children say thank you; she just does what she’s told. Ask and you shall receive, just like that.
But why single out the kids? Many of us find ourselves in short supply when it comes to being thankful.
We have a natural tilt toward the negative.
There are 150 psalms in the Old Testament. Roughly 33 of them are psalms of thanksgiving, and 54 are psalms of lament.
The nays have it by nearly a 2:1 ratio.
Thankfulness doesn’t often come naturally. The whining and complaining, the grievances and the sulking — now, those come naturally.
But thankfulness? It’s a tender shoot that needs nurturing. It’s far more multi-dimensional than making a list on paper. Routinely practiced, thankfulness becomes a way of seeing.
Thankful people often share a common denominator. Threads of suffering have woven through their lives — hardship, health problems, unexpected setbacks, outright failures and tragedy. But in an ironic twist, thankful people see not so much what they lack, but what they have. They exercise a boldness that, despite difficulty, reaches deep and gives thanks for the blessings and bounty before them.
It would be like starting out on a voyage across the Atlantic, confident that God is the wind in your sails, then struggling for two long months at sea under wretched conditions. You finally arrive at your destination, which turns out to be a wilderness far more raw and untamed than any had imagined. You hurriedly build primitive shelters and face off against a brutal winter.
The food supply shrivels. Scurvy, small pox and influenza rage. The sick tend to the sick. There is death and more death. Parents lose children, children lose parents and parents lose one another.
By spring, half of the original sailing party has died. A native of the land wanders into the crude settlement and teaches people how to fish and forage for food.
In the fall, a bountiful harvest follows. The natives who befriended you, Samoset and Squanto, gather members of their community to join with you for a thanksgiving feast that lasts three days.
What about the dead? What about all that suffering and loss? The suffering and loss are not erased or forgotten, but a choice was made — not to dwell on that which they lacked, but to give thanks to God for that which they had.
Thanksgiving was a way of life for the Pilgrims. In circumstances that made sense and in circumstances beyond human understanding, they lived the words of the psalmist, “It is a good thing to give thanks to the Lord.”
Lori Borgman is an Indianapolis columnist. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.