gratitude and the risk inherent


You didn’t think I could actually take a day off now, did you? A Thanksgiving gift to you. Thank you for reading. –b.

***

As Americans are thawing their birds, clearing grocery stores of Stove Top and canned cranberry sauce, on the road heading from points A to B this week, readying for Thursday football games, Flack Briday and reheated turkey buns up to three days after the fact (a perennial personal favorite, next to ordering pizza on Thursday night), someone at CNBC put it right on the money: Thanksgiving needs a new PR person.

No, this is not one of what I’m sure are myriad blogs or articles on how we need to reclaim Thanksgiving, or how consumerism has trampled the holiday. (In fairness, I’m generally inclined to agree with the aforementioned points.) This is far more personal.

While gratitude should be, pardon the cliche, attitude, the effort it takes to move into that kind of a default mindset should come with a caveat. Living a life of thankfulness requires a person to not only freely offer and accept gratitude, but to be emotionally invested in it. Grace–gratis –> gratitude–is an extension of pathos, not logos: rationally, we get what we deserve, cause and effect. Being thankful flies directly in the face of such causality, meaning that the meaningless deployment of cordial dictates is not and cannot actually be gratitude, but an expectation of that which we did not deserve. Which is dillhole-ish and snotty at best. (Insert theological and soteriological extrapolation here. Also, calvinus delenda est.)

Indeed, being open to grace requires a person to be exposed to the potential of suffering. Not every one will return grace for grace in kind; to offer freely of one’s self is uninformed consent of the expectation that not everyone will accept it. It is turning the other cheek. Grace as a default position is to embrace the possibility of being unrequited.

In my own life, and the efforts I’ve taken–I hope with a modicum of success–to live in this frame of reference, this is a highly disconcerting reality: the stakes are high. When authentically exchanged, it is a beautiful, transcendent experience. When unrequited, gratitude becomes the bitter pill. No one has to accept my thanks, my offer of myself. You don’t have to read what I have to write, which is why, when studying years ago in journalism, it was hard to accept the fact that the first words in response to a [named] reader comment should be ‘thank you for reading.’ They may hate what you’re saying, but they’re reading and they care enough to respond. It’s hard not to respond reflexively, but again, I receive what I feel I don’t deserve.

Perhaps we have it all backwards: what if the default setting for humans is far more logos than it is pathos?

Perhaps this is at the root of the insanity that will commencing in about 32 hours: we rush out to save a buck in order to fulfill the expectations of family and friends a month following. There is no grace in forcing the giving of gifts, just as there is no grace at the checkout line when a customer’s card declines (or when that customer calls the credit card company while in line, demanding, with opprobrium expectant given the day and lack of sleep, to know why the card declined.)

(Poor, poor Mumbai.)

Gratitude, and the open heart from which it comes, leaves me far more emotional than I sometimes care to be. With that, comes a level of authenticity, perhaps even integrity, that otherwise is shrouded by steely intellectual resolve. But graciousness allows me to smile, laugh freely, empathize and even get choked up at the raw force of that which is innocent, pure and or good in the world. To think on these things is, as the book says, covers all of that which is excellent and praise-worthy. It also gets us into a great deal of potential trouble. But gratitude qua gratitude must be worth that risk or else there would be nothing more to the birth of Christ than the importance of the birth of Goethe, Greenberg, Einstein, Stalin, Spinoza or Spielberg. (Or, to a far, far lesser extent, Sirvio.)

So yes, I do strongly advocate for each person to make every day a Thanksgiving of sorts, though perhaps sans cranberry sauce or relish trays. In so doing, let us take pause and consider the great and potentially terrible ramifications grace may have on our emotions. For the warmth of true gratitude and the devastation of the failure to reciprocate in kind are two sides of the same coin. And to love or be gracious is to accept that, sometimes, love or grace will be met with ambivalence.

I think the potential returns justify the investment.

Be safe, be good, be gracious. Again, happy Thanksgiving.

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