Happy Thanksgiving

There’s a bit of Zen liturgy called the “Five Reflections” or “Five Remembrances” that is chanted before meals; it’s sort of the Zen version of saying grace. There are a number of translations of the reflections floating around, but they all boil down to this:

First, reflect on all the work that went into putting the meal on the table. This goes beyond just the cooking. There are grocers and truckers and farmers and suppliers of farmers. And all of those people are sustained by food provided by other cooks and grocers and truckers and farmers and suppliers. And don’t forget the non-human creatures represented on the table, from the turkey to the dairy cows and even the bees who make pollination possible. If you think about it, you realize the food in front of you represents a huge web of relationships that spreads across the globe.

Second, reflect on whether you are contributing to the greater good with your own life, and if the work you do is sustaining other people as much as their work sustains you.

Third, reflect on not being greedy.

Fourth, reflect on what food is really about — keeping us alive and healthy.

Fifth, reflect on “attaining the Way,” or realizing enlightenment.

If you want to adapt any part of these for “grace” today, feel free.

One of the things I like about the Reflections is that it reminds us we are not just passive recipients of God’s Blessings, but that we have received what we need to stay alive through the work of countless people. Further, we have a moral duty to contribute to others in return. In other words, it’s a reflection on how interconnected we all are and that we all depend on each other.

There’s an attitude that because we pay money for things like food, clothing, and utilities, we are not dependent on others. But money is just a handy means to facilitate the exchange of goods and services that we need and don’t provide for ourselves. Just imagine if you had to barter with the electric company to keep the juice on (and would they accept chickens?).

When most people in a society are able to contribute their labor and talents in the web of interconnection, and when the work of providing for each other is unimpeded, that society is healthy and probably prosperous. But when there are barriers to people contributing their labors and talents, that society is in trouble.

Poverty itself is a huge barrier, because people without the money to buy the goods and services they need burn much of their time and energy begging, bartering, worrying, and stealing — or doing without. In a society that depends on money to exchange goods and services, the very poor are not just unfortunate; they easily can become incapacitated.

Few opportunities come without some kind of price tag, even if it’s just the cost of transportation and a haircut. And sometimes there are no opportunities within reach. If a person is kept down far enough, and long enough, pulling himself up can require almost superhuman strength.

Unfortunately, people who have never been genuinely poor rarely understand how hard it is to climb out of poverty. They also don’t appreciate that keeping other people cut off from opportunity impacts them as well. A society in which increasing numbers of people are barred from opportunity and prevented from contributing is a society that is dying. If it gets dead enough, the spreading rot will eventually reach everyone, even the wealthy.

A rising tide doesn’t necessarily lift all boats (some boats leak, you know). But when the water dries up entirely, even luxury yachts are stranded.

Americans have become steeped in a mythology that we as individuals are entitled to abundance, but other people aren’t, and that we as individuals are completely autonomous and self-sustaining units with no dependence on anyone but ourselves. But this is a fantasy.

And because too many of us are lost in a fantasy, we don’t see the spreading rot, and most probably won’t see it until it reaches them. (And then they’ll complain bitterly that no one acted to stop the rot.)

Sorry if this sounds gloomy, but it’s what I see. In spite of the gloom do enjoy your dinner.

17 thoughts on “Happy Thanksgiving

  1. Ooops, looks like I wrote a Thanksgiving Day comment one post too early. I hope you don’t mind, maha, I’m going to cut and paste.

    Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!
    Despite my constant kvetching, I have a lot to be thankful for.
    Though unemployed and without health insurance, for at least another couple of weeks I get umployment, and, as far as I know, my health is ok for a broken- down relatively young codger.
    My family is ok, and healthy for the most part. My parents (Mom soon to be 79, and Dad 85 in a few weeks), are ok, relatively healthy, and pretty self-reliant – they’re tough old Slavic bird’s. My sister still has piano students, my brother-in-law was downgraded, but still has his job. My beautiful and smart niece is entering her final semester for her Masters at Eastman Conservatory where she’s studying oboe, and is considered ‘World Class!’ And my wonderful, bright nephew, a Junior in HS, is doing well in school, geting ready for College, and plays French horn like a champ.
    My parents still have their house, where I live. And food is hot, though not very varied – but that’s because I once lived by myself and was able to do my favorite thing in the world, and that’s go to different restaurants, especially ethnic ones. When I cook during the week, I try to jazz-up the diet with a few spices (not too hot for the old folks!), marinade’s, and different takes on veggies.
    Knock on wood, my car runs ok.
    My teeth are still in my head.
    And today, I’m looking forward to eating like a Viking and drinking like a fish (well, not really a fish, since I’m the DD – but, a few nice glasses of Yellowtail Cab) in a few hours. Plenty of dark meat, stuffing, and mashed potato’s, drowning in a tsunami of gravy large enough to be declared a bio-hazard zone with its own EPA alert.
    So, I’m thankful for what I have today, which is a Hell of a lot more than many, and that’s all any of us can do. Tomorrow is tomorrow, and none of us knows what it’ll bring, so I’m going to try to enjoy every today. And with turkey, stuffing, gravy, wine, pumpkin pie, and a bit of football, that’s a lot to be thankful for. AND LEFTOVERS FOR TOMMOROW! YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!!!
    And I’d like to give thanks for maha, and all the fellow commenters here, without whom I’d probably be waiting for my Thanksgiving meal of mush served with a rubber spork, and a dessert of Thorazine and apple juice – after the restraints had been removed, of course…
    Again, I wish everyone a very Happy, Healthy, and Safe Thanksgiving. May God, or whatever goodness you believe in, shine on you and yours, today, and many, many tomorrows…

    Oh, and maha, thank you for reminding me of this:
    “Third, reflect on not being greedy.”
    So, darn it, I’ll forego my usual boatload of gravy, and make myself do with dinghy-full instead.
    Bon Apppetit’!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Maha, that was a very good post and most appropriate to the day.

    I wish you and yours and all the regular readers/commenters here a good dinner, good company and good conversation. And some time to reflect on what you wrote.

  3. I really enjoyed the Reflections — they add an excellent dimension to what Thanksgiving is about. And your words on poverty are right on!!! Been there; done that; still there. Thank you and may your Thanksgiving be greatly blessed.

  4. Thank you for introducing me to the Five Reflections, their wisdom speaks to me.

    And thank you, Maha, for what you do here, and for attracting the crowd of commenters you do. You are all an important part of the web of interconnections that sustains me and nourishes me, and for which I am thankful.

    Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

  5. Americans have become steeped in a mythology that we as individuals are entitled to abundance, but other people aren’t, and that we as individuals are completely autonomous and self-sustaining units with no dependence on anyone but ourselves. But this is a fantasy.

    It’s not just Americans – I learned this year that Margaret Thatcher famously stated: “There’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.” What rot.

  6. Happy Thanksgiving from the Great White North (well, some parts are white, but it’s just plain grey and drizzly where I am).

    Thanks for the five reflections. Well worth noting.

    Thank you Maha, for your wonderful blog and the fascinating group of readers you have around you.

    Be well and continue the fight.

  7. Maha: I used the first reflection on giving thanks not just for the food but for all the people and work that went into producing it. My friend thought that it was very good. I told her where I got the inspiration for it. Thank you again for this post.

  8. Happy Thanksgiving to all. I truly appreciate the wisdom, wit, and humor I find with friends on Mahablog. Spasiba balshoy!

  9. Sorry to be posting this so late, but my time zone is in Asia.

    There is a right-wing revisionist history of Thanksgiving being promoted by Rush Limbaugh. Probably most of heard of it:


    Not being a historian myself, I just wonder if any of you have looked into this. Is there any truth at all to Limbaugh’s story, or is it pure fiction?

  10. Is there any truth at all to Limbaugh’s story, or is it pure fiction?

    Like every story that comes out of Limbaugh’s mouth there’s a blend of truth and fiction designed to keep the listener confused and tilt the message toward the right. A good rule of thumb is know that Limbaugh will always play toward his audience of listeners, and he’ll never let the truth interfere with his message.

  11. The Pilgrims could not be Marxists, but there is a possibility thet Marx could have been a pilgrimist (in Bizarro world).

    Thanks, Maha, for your Thanksgiving commentary.
    We went to visit some old friends yesterday, my daughter (17), and two friends (19) came along.The weather was beautiful, great food and company.
    The ages ranged from 2 1/2 to 95; funny how no one claims to be 95 1/2……

  12. December 21st is the darkest day because it is the Solstice and the moon is very small. After that I hope we begin to see some light in this gloomy situation.

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