Hope for Gratitude
Updated: Nov 16, 2021
Every blog post I write is conceived and written at least a couple of months in advance of the month.
This means, among other things, that I aim for my post to be both applicable to the season or time of year in the future in which it will "drop", as well as something that can nevertheless be enjoyed at any time of the year.
I "believe" in historical time, (that is, even if I concede that it is artificially invented by a social convention - whether enforced conformity or freely chosen consensus - we ought to treat historical and linear time with a certain measure of credulity and seriousness) in "calendar time", and a certain reality of times of the year.
I take these to be not only natural, like the realities of Winter and Summer, as well as morning and evening, but as worthy formal structures for this very blog.
Yet at the same time I know these are far from the whole story, for I also think that a great deal of life is habit and not inevitable necessity. (And this doesn't imply that an artificial habit cannot be a good one to keep). It is one of the goals of art to escape free from even things of reality; this is a direct result of the stream of consciousness which is not bound up in the ordinary limitations we associate with the physical universe.
I say all of this became among other things, November is the time of the Fall season.
Many people I know seem to love and come alive in the Fall.
I am writing these remarks, however, in the context of increased climate change awareness and in the part of North Carolina I live in most long time residents often speak of how Fall no longer really occurs.
Rather than the wondrous and sublime gradations and hues of leaf color that occurred during the season, the leaves now tend to simply stay green only to die and fall off at the same time towards Winter. There are "too many" 80 plus degree days in September and October for any cool Fall climate to render leaves any color other than forest green.
We even have a holiday whose origin is in part contemptible, whatever good has come from it, where we get together with others and have a meal.
One of the now classic moves in contemporary and modern, popular dramatic art is to interrogate and satirize aspects of this time of year. Think of Jodie Foster's Home For The Holidays. Think of the novel and movie The Ice Storm, of the famous and hysterical Turkeys Away episode from WKRP In Cincinnati.
I once wrote a brief essay inspired by a Thanksgiving episode of Barney Miller of all things - during which the right-wing police superior Luger is offended by the skepticism of the more liberal and intellectual Dietrich when Luger wishes Dietrich a "Happy Thanksgiving."
Dietrich says he doesn't know to whom he is supposed to be thankful because of "agnosticism".
I said then in that piece, in essence, that gratitude is itself a necessary and universal capacity and if we get confused, as does the otherwise "evolved" character Dietrich, it is because we have assumed an a priori narrow tent in which to accommodate admittedly complex concepts like gratitude.
That is, we need a concept of gratitude capacious enough to include everyone, including those, like the present author, who are far less grateful in general than the average person. (And I am only speculating here).
And to get more specific, pointed, and personal I will always associate that particular holiday with my best friend growing up. From 1970 through the middle 80s our family always went to their house for Thanksgiving.
A couple of, from my limited point of view, profoundly negative events occurred to end this tradition. Both our families experienced divorce and bitter divorce at that, dissolving any unitary home and house in which to meet.
Most recently I discovered that my former best friend has become a Trumpist and this decision of his has also dissolved our friendship, a decision that is entirely mine. And lest you think his jointing one of the worst moments in all of American history, political or otherwise fits expected or stereotyped patterns, it was ultimately his wife, an early enthusiast and religious fanatic, who begged and cajoled him into joining.
And as for Thanksgiving itself, going back a couple of decades, there was a period of about fifteen years during which finding a physical place to be on Thanksgiving was not a straightforward affair. This was in great contrast to the first twenty years of my life, a time in which the day was a predictable and happy occasion - one that had been mapped out for me as a function of traditional family structures and living arrangements.
Yet having said all of this, I still think that there is hope for gratitude.
If you remember my "big tent" idea of gratitude this means that we can recognize thankfulness simply for the fact of existence. This is exactly what the best parts of the spiritual traditions have taught and it is what the poets have written.
The only reason why we might think awe or even bliss at mere existence alone is insufficient is because some of us of us have lived in those narrow tents of tradition and precedence, where people have been conditioned to associate gratitude with a religious exclusion (though these are usually masked as inclusion) or identity affiliation.
On every single episode of our show I enter into it with the most naive form of gratitude as is possible: gratitude that the guest has shared their time with me and, above all, the contents of their consciousnesses with me, knowing full well how prone to external misinterpretation or lack of attention such "internal" states, as precious as they are, can be.
If we remember this preciousness and realness we can hope that more people can be grateful for what they already possess while never giving up on the aspiration for what is not yet to be.