One day recently, as we sat outside a bakery where the season's first pumpkin pies had just gone on display, my friend T told me that she hates Thanksgiving.
She said she hates it because, as observed in the mainstream United States today, it's too much good stuff all at once: an industrial gluttony, a forced embarrassment of riches.
"I love roasted turkey. I love stuffing. I love mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, buttered rolls, cider and pumpkin pie," T said. "But not all on the same table at the same time."
T is not physically fond—or capable—of eating much at any single sitting. (I'm the same way: However voracious I feel when a meal begins, after the soup and salad I'm stuffed: Wrap the rest for later. Now I'm done.) But her anti-21st-century-Thanksgiving ire is only slightly physical and mainly spiritual: Each dish, each element of the traditional Thanksgiving feast, is such a marvel in its own right as to merit undiluted, uncompeted-with, singular awe and, harking back to this holiday's essence, awe's sacred by-product: gratitude.
In this light, stuffing deserves a Thanksgiving all its own: This complex exercise in practicality and ingenuity, this clever means of using leftover starches as sponges to capture nutritious juices from hollowed-out animals (I say this, respectfully, as a vegetarian) that would (as would those leftover starches) be wasted otherwise is testament to human foresight and survival instinct, to making the most of things.
And in this light, cranberry sauce deserves its own Thanksgiving too: We who take supermarkets for granted might not grasp—or, thanks to our own good fortune, might forget—the death-defying fabulosity of any fruit, even these tiny, bog-born, ludicrously sour ones, which survived through the vagaries of season, soil and sky to attain vitamin-rich plump perfection then be sacrificed, en masse.
We could apply this process to any Thanksgiving dish, finding a way to feel awestruck by its ingredients, history, composition, symbolism, flavor, texture, colors, complexity, simplicity and/or whatever memories it might invoke.
Of course, we need not limit this gratitude exercise to food. Nor need it be confined to one Thursday per year. We could in almost any circumstance, almost any environment, cultivate awe, then calculate awe's details into gratitude—a joyous self-perpetuating cycle by whose infinite potential, I realize right now, I'm awestruck. And for which I thus give thanks.
I give thanks for being able to give thanks. Here's why:
We who struggle with low self-esteem tend to have trouble feeling awe and generating gratitude for and/or about anything. We think we deserve neither. We who feel unworthy of compassion, we who feel unwelcome in the world, we who apologize for every word and often even for existing: We have a hard time believing that whatever at first glance appears wondrous might actually be exactly as it seems, that it might not be some sinister booby trap designed to expose our unworthiness but might be rather really ours to admire, access, enjoy.
Allowing ourselves to accept this possibility—that we can have good things—is lustrous progress on the path toward not hating ourselves.
So what better time than this holiday season to experiment with awe and gratitude? What better time than this to understand how hard these two emotions are for some of us, and why? What better opportunity to apprehend the glorious simplicity of gravy, say—and to understand that we are allowed to make it, pour it, eat it, share it, love it, thank it and let it nourish our bodies, hearts and minds?