Thanksgiving for a Wild Harvest


Tryptophan stupor has got me not thinking. It’s a good thing, a quietly glorious thing, the big and permissive time out that follows the feast.

But leading up to the feast, I was trying to recall the illustrations of cornucopias in my childhood geography books, woven horns of plenty, stuffed with the stuff of fall harvest. Recently I have been trying to remember what was in those baskets because I am thinking the contents would not really have been all cultivated crops. Surely there were some nuts and seeds, some grass heads and fruits that just happened to grow, along with the cultivated pumpkins, ears of corn, stalks of grain. Or maybe it was the role of the turkey to just happen along when a human hunter was out there standing around in knickers with a big buckle, wearing a tall hat and carrying that bullhorn of a gun. Do we thank the turkey? And does the turkey count his blessings? It so easily gets complicated.

In years gone by I counted my blessings by assessing my “successes,” how many carefully crafted goals I’d scratched off the list in my day planner. It was common practice in those days, and so goals not achieved were failures that caused me to hate my obstacles with a fury, and the fury spurred on my efforts. Maybe my obstacles really were insurmountable or at least unfair, maybe my opponents were more diabolical and powerful, or, worse, advantaged by privilege that amounted to my being handicapped in the great competition of life. And maybe not. Maybe I spent more time in whipped up painful furies than was good for me or anyone else; maybe I’d have arrived without all that.

Perhaps in reality my obstacles were as blessed as my achievements, like that broken neck that interrupted my race to have it all, that slowed me down for so long that I finally remembered to question the wisdom of wanting to have it all. Some of my opponents were, I remain convinced, diabolical, Shakespearean Iagos in modern dress. Like the boss who offered me the world if only I’d curse God and claim her instead, and through whom I learned what reserves of strength I have, even as these morphed into a simple understanding that I choose to live in some ways and not to live in other ways. I learned on that particular rugged obstacle course that I could be harried beyond my capacity to imagine, but I couldn’t be bought or intimidated. My worthy opponent taught me that I could choose how to live; what freedom she made available to me!

Maybe the greater portion of suffering we encounter in life is not personal, not something we did wrong, or failed to do right, or even intended to hurt us, but just part of what happens, a wild harvest of sorts. And maybe part of the blessedness of a good life is that we come to see we are not so different from other people, that life happens to a greater extent than it is chosen or intended. No matter our circumstances, life just happens to us and around us from before we are born. As teenagers perennially remind their parents, we did not ask to be born, nor did we choose our parents, and thus the greatest portion of our life story was chosen for us by others who in their own right had no idea what they were choosing. Our own lives are only marginally, if also importantly, cultivated crops, more what we got given than what we intended and made for ourselves. A good many of us are in our very bodies our parent’s wild harvest.

It remains, though, that for most of us, this life is fat and juicy with experience, and the single thing we might most genuinely choose is—yes—our attitude. Thanksgiving seems a concerted effort to do that. We look up from the Herculean struggles that obsess our psyches, endlessly spinning the autobiographical story line, trying to get ourselves right. We together choose to look into the everyday blessedness of living on earth, the everyday blessedness that we know is somehow the more real story.

This year, I lift my eyes and my heart to a world much bigger than my strengths or weaknesses, my efforts, my opportunities lost or realized, my health good or bad, my fortune greater or smaller than yours, or than my last year’s reckoning. I give thanks for a world that allows for me but is blessedly not about me. Like Thanksgiving Day, the universe is generous and permissive. It’s a wild harvest that just wants to be enjoyed.