As everyone knows, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. In my opinion, this is the most important holiday of the year. I know there are those who will disagree with me. After all, we are not celebrating salvation tomorrow, let alone freedom, love, or any of the other significant values that are embraced by the other holidays of the year, and that are central to our identities. Nor, contrary to popular belief, does this holiday commemorate any specific date or event per se – oversized belt-buckles, tall hats and Native guests at the dinner table notwithstanding. Historians tell us that the “first Thanksgiving” of the early 17th century was nothing like what any of us ever learned about in school and that in truth, the holiday did not really come into being until centuries after the colonists at Plimoth Plantation – and the myths that surround them – were long gone.
But from my perspective, that’s neither here nor there. Because I still would contend that this day is by far of greater relevance than any other. Allow me to explain why.
As I have said before in this space, we now live in an age of what I refer to as “losses.” Since I was kid in the 1960s and ‘70s, we have gained a great deal in the areas of technology, wealth and prosperity. But all of this has come at a price. We have lost as much as we have gained: lost civility, lost manners, lost sense of pride or responsibility, and yes, lost faith. Ours is an era of vacuous, meaningless foolishness. While millions around the world struggle on a daily basis to keep a roof over their heads and a meager amount of food on the table, we stand idly by while grown men come to blows over a processed chicken sandwich, a pair of Air Jordans, or a mall parking space. And while I would never rail against Capitalism and all of the gains it has brought to virtually every society across the globe we now, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, “seem to know the price of everything, but the value of nothing.”
Examples of this contention are all around us. To wit: the winter holiday season is dominated not by the joys and love that ought to be inherent in celebrating spiritual rebirth, but rather, material gain and wealth. Sales for Christmas-related items have been going on now since Labor Day. And while some of us groan when we see this commercialization at every turn, the truth is that the powers of materialism are far greater than we are.
Tomorrow night, many Americans will sleep in pup-tents out in the bitter cold on the sidewalks of Target and Best Buy, clamoring to be the first to acquire the latest flat-screen TVs at a 10% discount. And yet, while thousands will stand in mile-long lines anticipating these “Black Friday” sales, we can be certain that when Election Day comes around next year, best pray it doesn’t rain, or there will be low turnout.
This sort of corruption of values is neither age-, place-, nor demographic-specific. Ours is a generation in which complacency and entitlement are infused into virtually every aspect of daily life. We expect so much, yet are willing to give so little. And more: we expect that things will go our way. Ours might easily be called the “Annoyed Generation.” As technology facilitates virtually every aspect of our lives to the point where we barely have to make an effort to accomplish anything (“Alexa, bring me my dinner!”) there is an obvious byproduct to such developments. In short, we are less patient than any generation in history, expecting everything to be immediate and at our pleasure.
And when things don’t exactly go our way? What about compromise or a little give-and-take? Not today, not anymore. In which case marriage is now for patsies, friendships are kept at arms’ length, and increasingly, commitments have become tenuous. After all, why on earth should we compromise with anyone, about anything?
Yes, this is life in 21st century America. It is an age of disbelief – I only accept what I already know. It is an age of selfishness and indeed, though I try to be optimistic, this all may worsen before it improves.
And yet, on one day each year, we still have a chance to stop and think differently. On this day, we are reminded to be thankful, to appreciate that we would not have what we have were it not for the sacrifices of generations of folks who came before us. Had they not fought the battles – both literal and figurative – to protect our country, to anticipate threats, to invent and innovate in the face of scarcity, we would not have any of the goods and resources that make our lives livable. Were it not for someone else, we would have to grow our own food, build our own homes, stitch together our own clothes, construct our own conveyances, and on and on. But because we live in community, and because of a history of generations of innovators who thought about others and not just themselves and who planned and anticipated the future, we are able today to live lives of relative comfort.
And so, as you sit around your Thanksgiving table tomorrow eating turkey and stuffing, (and later, as you watch the Dallas Cowboys lose to the Buffalo Bills), I hope you will take a moment to think about the generations of folks who, thanks to them, have made your life better than it might be otherwise. And then, if (God willing) your parents are still well, I hope you’ll pick up your iPhone and give them a call and tell them “thanks.”
Because after all, expressing appreciation and humility is, in fact, the foundation of many things – including salvation, freedom, and above all, love.
Steven C. Dinero, PhD, is the Executive Director of the Carbon County Museum.