By Rafael Martínez Alequín
As we approach Thanksgiving 2010, Your Free Press takes this opportunity to wish all its readers a happy Thanksgiving. It is a cliché, but true nonetheless, that our attention is too much diverted by turkey and mythology when it should be focused on gratitude. It is human to react with thanks when life goes well, just as it is natural to curse one's fate when tribulation strikes. Godly men and women turn into atheist, at least temporarily, after watching thousands of children starve. Lottery winners and late-inning home-run hitters attribute their good luck to the personal intervention of the "Good Lord."
It is easy to focus on what we lack, especially in these days of lowered expectations. We don't have, and probably never will have, the prosperity that seems to be our parents' and our own birthright back in the 1950s and '60s. It takes two incomes to buy what one used to provide. Even so, we live as only a very small percentage of the human race has ever been privileged to live. Royalty has gotten by as paupers by comparison. Yet, most of humanity does not live in such plenty. Million in this country and elsewhere do not have enough to eat. Others live under daily threat of death from their governments or from the forces of a foreign government because of the political opinions they hold or are suspected of holding.
Most of us here in America do not suffer these deprivations, though we would be naive if we didn't recognize that all too many of us are ill-nourished or subject to racial and political harassment, and worse. Even across this country, hundreds of thousands are homeless, thanks to the policies of the presidency of George W. Bush Administration cut $200 billion from low- and middle-income housing. Surely we ought to give some thought to the ill-housed and homeless, to the hungry and the brutalized, even as we reflect on our own good luck. What joy can there be in our prosperity if a neighbor down the block, Haiti or in Central and South America or Afghanistan, Bangladesh or the Sudan, is deprived of the basic necessities or tortured for her or his political beliefs?
We can turn away from all of this, just as we eventually must turn away from the television when one too many emaciated Africans or mutilated Mexicans have been put before us. Portraits of happy Pilgrims sitting down to dinner with their happy Indian brothers and sisters seem more appropriate to the season. How much guilt can we expected to bear? Is it our fault we were born into a dominant culture? Must we always be reflecting on the sins of our ancestors and elected officials?
Of course, the answer is no. Life would not be bearable if we had to wear mental hairshirts all the time. Life is to be lived, enjoyed, reveled in. This is a lesson we can learn from the saints, both religious and secular: Those who do the most good seem to enjoy themselves the most. enjoy not just the virtue they practice but all the other good things of life—food, love, intellect, companionship—the entire range of possibility open to human experience. They show us that we have nothing to fear from our own compassion. It does not diminish but enlarges our life. How much greater our joy could be, then, if on Thanksgiving Day, or any other time, we can say that we have tasted the full of life, the joys of our own mind and flesh as well as the happiness and pain of others. That, surely, would be something to be thankful for.