Thanksgiving and Death

I have the standard gripes about Thanksgiving: that none of us are truly thankful, bemoaning day-after shopping-sprees and the manufactured start of the “Holiday Shopping Season”.

This year we had dinner at the duplex of another married couple we’re close with. Francine’s parents were there and so were Tyler’s. Francine’s parents emigrated from Ukraine in the 1980’s and Tyler’s parents emigrated from Kuwait when Saddam stomped over.

After we’d eaten, talk went around to world events, from the fall of the Berlin Wall, to the Greek debt crisis, to how Arab women have beautiful green eyes. Talk went to the differences between US culture and the rest of the world.

Tyler’s mother had a friend who had immigrated to Europe. This friend dated a Romanian woman, dirt poor in a simple, agrarian village. Tyler’s mother’s friend bought his Romanian girlfriend a pair of jeans and a hat. She was ecstatic, overjoyed, told everyone she knew about her boyfriend who bought her all sorts of amazing things. But all it was were bluejeans and a cheap knit hat.

Every American knows this dichotomy – the west has everything, the rest of the world has nothing. Especially here in the US, land of Thanksgiving Day Sales and Remember Poor Jesus By Buying Lots Of Crap.

We’re all aware most people in the world own clumps of dirt to our cars and houses and pools, but it doesn’t change anything, because we don’t understand the material-lacking the rest of the world is familiar with.

We know the rest of the world has very little, but we cannot understand it, because we (most of us) have never  experienced similar circumstances.

You can yell at everyone you eat dinner with: “You’re all ungrateful because immediately after stuffing your faces you’re going shopping.”

But it isn’t going to change anything. We understand the irony, the insincerity, but we cannot understand what it means to be truly grateful, because we do not understand the circumstances required to be grateful. To be grateful for a thing, you must first experience a need of that thing.

The vast majority of us Americans have never been homeless, or without reliable transportation, or without food, or running water, or clean clothes.

It is difficult to argue against these circumstances: “We shouldn’t have roofs over our heads!”????

But perhaps that’s an insincere argument. Plenty of humans get by just fine on very little, from bog villagers in Ireland to goat-herders in Tibet. They own very little, but have shelter and food. If poverty is a lack of material necessities, perhaps it is more correct to consider some of Earth’s ‘poor people’ as being frugal.

We know something is wrong with American culture. We know it isn’t right to rush out shopping after eating dinner. We know it’s ridiculous to spend the day after Thanksgiving trolling big-box stores for blenders, TVs, and gaming consoles. But we do it anyway.

We know it is ridiculous to celebrate Jesus and everything the Ancient Hippie represents, by gouging ourselves with material excess.

But it isn’t going to stop. There have been movements away from cheap, tawdry, vapid consumerism – The Lost Generation, The Beatniks, The Hippies, The Punks – but all of these movements have decayed back into the soil and new Wal-Marts have been built on the empty lots.

Society will not willingly move away from consumerism. Society will not willingly accept frugality. The only way consumerism will end, the only way material excess and decadence (yes, this is an era of Decadence) will cease, is if they are ripped from us.

For us to be sincerely grateful, Death must resume its daily rap on each of our windows.