Thanksgiving is the most un-American holiday of the year. Americans have been raised on a series of myths that portray this land as specially selected by God for great things. Americans are rugged individualists, pioneer stock, who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and became great. Republican presidential hopefuls speak of "American exceptionalism". This is the greatest country because we worked hard, persevered and accepted God's will we would come out on top. American school children learn about "manifest destiny", and discover it was our fate to conquer the whole nation and it was our job to supplant the native peoples so as to reap the rewards the land had to offer. We have earned the wealth, standard of living and dominance on the world stage. It's called "pride".
Thanksgiving is a celebration which requires humility to truly enjoy its meaning. It demands an acknowledgement of how lucky we are and how blessed. It recognizes the happenstance of events that led to so much prosperity. Thanksgiving is at its best when people admit so much of what they have is fortunate and could easily have turned out differently.
I know what it's like to suffer from excessive pride. I was an American success story. I was convinced I had earned or deserved the success I had achieved, the family that loved me and the material wealth that surrounded me. It's worse than that. Not only did I believe all this was earned, I was concerned others were getting what was rightfully mine. I was jealous of co-workers who received better treatment from management in my estimation. Less talented folks who were preventing me from my much deserved place in the sun. I chaffed at not having my talents recognized. A loving wife and caring children were a given. I swallowed the American myth hook, line and sinker. I was incapable of appreciating my luck and good fortune. So many Americans are like me in this excess of pride. They look disparagingly upon the poor and disadvantaged. It's their fault they are in the circumstances they find themselves in. My comfortable life is all my doing.
Thanksgiving is a seditious holiday if observed sincerely. It encourages us to take personal inventory and requires a humble honesty without which all the turkey and yams, the cranberries and mashed potatoes, the green bean casserole and apple pie, the family and friends gathered around the table, serve only to reinforce how much we deserve and how good it feels to be a "have" rather than a "have not". Nothing could be more un-American in this day and age than to admit that there but for the grace of God, I could lose everything, hurt my family, wreck my reputation and surrender my freedom because of a lack of gratitude and the absence of humility.
Thanksgiving has defied commercialization that increases its un-American nature. The best America can do is to turn the day "after" Thanksgiving into the biggest shopping day of the year. However, the day itself frustrates the American mythology. It is a day where the only purpose is to gather and give thanks. Unfortunately, much of that gratitude is about all we have and how hard we worked to achieve it.
I will tell you a secret I have discovered over the last 3 plus years. The job and the recognition, the cars and flat screen TV, the house and perks which come with economic success don't encourage humility and don't open the door to happiness. As this Thanksgiving dawns for me, I will wake with gratitude on my lips, and in my heart, for a wife and children who love me despite a thousand reasons why they shouldn't. I rise healthier physically than any time in the last 25 years. I have been blessed with words of kindness from so many of you, most of whom I have never met. I live in amazement at literally thousands of letters and cards from strangers encouraging me and deciding to go on this journey with me. At night, after a show, I would go home and sit in a room and feel lonely, dissatisfied and angry about not having more. On this Thanksgiving morning, I will awaken with a cross-section of people many of whom have shown me great kindness in an environment that encourages callousness and self-interest. I will hear voices of people I love over the phone. I will marvel at how lucky I am to have finally reached a place where all I have is a blessing I don't deserve nor have earned. My life is rich and full and this is still true even after the long, embarrassing and devastating fall my pride caused.
Thanksgiving celebrates values and emotions American exceptionalism downplays or outright derides. It reminds us how lucky we are and asks us to acknowledge all we have been given and we neither deserve nor have earned any of it.
May I ask you a favor? On Thanksgiving will you spend some moments in un-American reflection about all the reasons you have to give thanks and chronicle the real blessings in your life? Could you humbly offer a prayer of thanks, as you look around your table cognizant of all the bounty and gifts you have? Will you forsake the false pride that permeates our American ethos and gratefully accept what you have been lucky enough to experience?
I will give thanks for you and so many others who have shown me what friendship and caring are all about and I know I don't deserve any of it. I am a lucky man who some would say lost everything, but in reality re-discovered a humble spirit and has now found a priceless treasure.