The most important day of any holiday is the day after. Did we do more than rejoice—did we incorporate the values of the celebration into our lives? Now that Thanksgiving is over, it is time to reflect anew on the fact that there are two kinds of gratitude.
Sitting at the Thanksgiving table, we felt grateful for the bounty we were privileged to enjoy. For the miracle of modern food production and the enormity of our nation’s gifts, we should offer heartfelt blessings.
But there are two kinds of gratitude. One kind stops with thanks. It is a feeling that leads nowhere. The second, deeper gratitude spurs us to give.
Motivational gratitude encourages us to help in a world where many are hungry. There are food banks and charities that count on donations and volunteers to help feed others. To luxuriate in one’s good fortune without a thought for the plight of others is a feeling that changes nothing. Don’t end with appreciation; gratitude should be a green light for giving.
We are grateful for our family and friends. Yet our gratitude should be tinged with sadness for those who are alone, or for those who have lost people dear to them. The Jewish injunction at Passover—”Let all who are hungry come and eat, let all who are in need celebrate Passover”—is the joining of appreciation to obligation. We who have so much should be grateful; we who have so much should also be mindful that others do not.
These past weeks have been tragic and unsettling. Terror has upended lives, and chaos tossed millions out to an uncertain future. If you are lucky enough to be surrounded by those whom you love, remember those who are not so fortunate.
This wonderful country is singularly blessed. Much of what we have is a product not of our goodness, but of God’s goodness. We sit in homes we did not build, eating food we did not grow, speaking a language we did not create, surrounded by a world that was prepared for us when we entered it through the endless efforts of those who came before us. So in thanks, like the old man planting the olive tree whose fruits he will not see, we should give to others as so many others have given to us.
Every human being has both grievances and grief. There are things that irritate us about the world and things that sadden us. Now that Thanksgiving has passed, will we continue to remember everything that has been given us, all that we cherish and treasure, and allow that recognition to awaken us to the grief of others?
The lessons of Thanksgiving do not end with a full stomach and a football game. Gratitude for this wondrous but broken world should be a drive throughout the year to support charities, to volunteer, to help bind wounds and to heal hearts.