It is Thanksgiving and a local teenager has died. Another is in the hospital. In this small town, we are all connected by the Facebook accounts of our adolescent kids. Somebody's child was taken to the hospital and for another's it was too late. I can feel the haunting of another parent's nightmare tugging at my shirt. They start to look like vases, like china, these half-grown children. They clink like nearly-broken glass. You gasp and only exhale when you see that this time they are whole.
This is the problem with gratitude. The sharp edge on which it lives. I am grateful, grateful beyond words. I could fall upon their sleeping bodies sobbing, my prayer catching in my throat,
"Thank God it wasn't you."
There is something fundamentally animal about it. I am glad for what I have. Whatever I have, someone else must do without. If I have food, someone else is starving. If I have warmth someone else is cold. If I look on with pride at the living, chattering antics of my three children, someone else is sitting by a grave, trying to imagine how to live. Yes, yes, I am grateful. A thousand times grateful. But, I often wonder: is there really a religion to be made of this? Is this gratitude-shouting a practice that smooths the edges of my troubled soul? Is this worthy of the Facebook statuses of an entire month?
And perhaps it is. It is good to remember that I could be that mourner, that woman waking in a hospital to learn that my child has left the earth, lest I forget to kiss my child. It is good to remember that I could be without food, when I am angry that I am without kick-ass boots. But this seems a shallow place to stop, if there my feet rest in their tracks—this "I am grateful today for all I have."
I have to think that any gratitude of meaning would challenge us to do far more. If we are grateful for our wonderful food, what part of it might we share? If we are happy that we have our family, have we welcomed in those who have none? No, mostly I didn't and I haven't. Too often, I fail to practice gratitude—the gratitude of gifts and welcomes or the gratitude of the heart, too often I fail at both of these. Maybe it would do my heart some good to post a thank you each running day of November. But I don't. I won't. Because if I am grateful out loud to the Universe on Facebook for the life of my child, what am I saying the world meant for hers? I will keep my gratitude to myself and offer this thank you instead.
Today I thank the first nations whose gift we took without asking, that allowed every bit of plenty we enjoy today. I thank the slaves who never were free, the workers who toiled to build the nation, the immigrants who were called names. I thank everyone history has forgotten, who gave me what I have. I do not know your names, but I remember you today. For your lives I say a prayer. I thank the turkey and his farmer, the butcher and the growers of the food. I thank my husband for supporting me and my mother for helping me cook. I thank my children for chopped potatoes, for warm hugs and for the purpose of my life.
And I offer a prayer of tears in solidarity with the mother who has just yesterday lost her son. I will eat and I will laugh, but I will not forget. I will not forget.
It is Thanksgiving and someone else's child is dead.