The Moment That Mattered

Don’t you think that first Thanksgiving was so simple? Or, maybe elemental is the better word.  Participants were expressing thanks for their  very survival.  They had made it through that first year, with some important help from the natives.  They had roofs over their heads and the bounty from a successful harvest was stored away.

For the vast majority of Americans, myself included, today is far from a celebration of survival.   Since my means exceed my requirements and both food and shelter would seem to be all but assured, at least in the near term, fervency must spring from another fount of inspiration.

The Pilgrims giving of thanks may have been proceeded by a feeling of being grateful, that is they had a sense they were the recipients of something, partly earned, perhaps partly not.  It is the “not” part that is the root of gratefulness.  The notion that however good we have it, that it was not all of our own making, is for many the essence of a sense of gratitude.  But, of course, it is more complicated than that.

The supreme requirement to embark on the journey of gratefulness is the ability to feel satisfied.  This “satisfied” is the sense that we have enough to reasonably justify a sense of happiness and it is that feeling of well-being that allows us to feel grateful and to ultimately give thanks.  To be caught up in a cycle of striving is the surest way to banish a sense of satisfaction.  Enough is a wonderful word.

Satisfaction also requires personal awareness.  We can be sure that on that first Thanksgiving, the pilgrims were not thinking 5 years out but were aware of their rather extraordinary fortune and were inclined to feel grateful for it, at that moment.  Today,  the notion of awareness, as in this moment, is washed away in the plague of complexity, technology and mostly false “connectedness” that is modern life.  

I’ll take my own advice on the challenge of awareness and end this rumination on the giving of thanks by trying to picture the evening of that first celebratory gathering.

They were seated close together for warmth at the end of a spectacular  late Fall day. The feast and the giving of thanks were over and the moment was turning inward.  Talk was slowly dying down with ever lengthening pauses as they gazed quietly at the setting sun, evening shadows and the fiery embers, entranced by the sense that for this moment, all was well.  And this was the moment that mattered.


  • Dennis says:


    I enjoyed reading your thoughtful, insightful essay. I know you are a student of history and a fan of Abraham Lincoln, so I am sharing his Thanksgiving Proclaimation which he issued just a few months after the bloody battle of Gettysburg. During one of the darkest of times in our history, we find our President encouraging his fellow citizens to thank Almighty God for all of the blessings of America even as the country is being savagely torn apart by the Civil War, and hundreds of thousands of her sons are being killed on the battlefield. My college professor sent this to me and I thought you would appreciate it.

    Washington, D.C.
    October 3, 1863
    By the President of the United States of America.
    A Proclamation.
    The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.
    In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
    Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.
    By the President: Abraham Lincoln

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