My list of appreciation this Thanksgiving includes heartfelt joy that only six short weeks remain in this calamitous year. It's also a day I specifically earmark to rest a spell beside life's flow to examine the deeper nature of thankfulness.
What does it actually mean to be thankful? Are we the only creatures capable of recognizing and expressing gratitude? Is thankfulness an inherently spiritual quality, or has it become primarily rooted mostly in celebrating the creature comforts we acquire over a lifetime?
I suspect many of us are thankful simply to still be drawing breaths in the age of covid. We of silvering hair and multiplying wrinkles likely share common gratitude for what health remains, as well as the well-being of our loved ones and friends.
Without health and close relationships, all the shiny things we collect pale in significance and meaning. I'm thankful to live in a uniquely desirable place like Arkansas with such magnificent natural wonders and common-sense residents.
Most of us probably feel likewise about being thankful for employment and a sense of security, along with the meaningful purpose arising from experiencing life. A majority are thankful for freedoms we still have and the capacity to love, as well as being able to share meaningful moments of our fragile lifetime with others.
As with everything, appreciation is relative. For instance, in war-torn, impoverished Afghanistan, people are thankful just to be flying kites. Across much of Africa, a Snickers bar might well be treasured as a gift from above.
It isn't a stretch to wonder why we have purposely created a society geared primarily toward acquiring as many material possessions as possible, rather than emphasizing the undeniable relevance of spiritual substance to our lives.
My closet is stuffed with clothes and 14 pair of shoes. Yet I wouldn't rank them high on a list that prompts thankfulness. The same for my car, television and that microwave I frequently use.
Everywhere we turn is a constant bombardment of advertisements screaming for attention and dollars. Each ad insists we need more and more stuff to achieve happiness and thereby become thankful.
Yet we realize as a nation and individually that surrounding ourselves with all these material things for which we actually feel little, if any, thankfulness can have just the opposite effect on our psyches and spirits.
We wind up taking most such acquisitions for granted as we continually want more in an endless game of tail-chasing.
Plus, the more we acquire in mindless and futile pursuit of physical excess, the more we must store around our homes and drape on our bodies (then pay to insure and fret over keeping it all safe and dry.)
I've always had to either find space for my stuff or store much of it, or better still, hold garage sales every other summer to unload it for pennies on the dollar.
Thanksgiving provides an opportunity--if we can manage to pull ourselves away from various diversions such as gorging, a recliner and the television--to seriously reflect upon how we are choosing to utilize each day of our only known lifetime.
Are we really spending our limited days here in a way that inspires genuine fulfillment and appreciation? If not, what's preventing us from emphasizing the genuine connections our spirits continually hunger for?
Does anyone with a sixth-grade education really believe they were put here to see how much money can be accumulated over their lifetime? How many streaming series and TV programs can we binge-escape into? How many pounds can one pile onto once divinely tuned bodies?
Are the physical pleasures, mindless activities and continual diversions the real reason behind the relatively few years we spend on this plane of existence? Is there no higher cause for Thanksgiving than food, stuff and hoarding toilet paper and pork chops?
I've come to believe there must be much more. Others also are increasingly forsaking the ankle-deep shallows of a mundane existence for deeper pools of personal significance and spiritual satisfaction.
The terrible events of Sept. 11, 2001, triggered such reflection in millions of us. Seeing Afghan parents and their children, as well as those of other Third World nations, being thankful for the simple joys of music and kites only reinforced my perspective.
Despite popular expectations and endless commercials that promote them, it seems to me that Thanksgiving isn't about honoring gluttony or the things we typically purchase 24 hours later in the melee of Black Friday.
Thanksgivings typically represent only 70 or 80 days of our lifetimes. I've had 73. It's a day supposedly earmarked annually to offer heartfelt thanks to the loving force that created our conscious state, then set it free it into the world's most glorious democratic republic.
Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.