Thankful Day

By Shamus Posted Friday Nov 24, 2006

Filed under: Personal 8 comments

Yesterday I tried to come up with a reasonable “what I am thankful for” post. There are two problems with this: 1) The subject is too huge and 2) The title ends in a preposition.

Echoing back to my earlier thoughts on how awful it would be to be a king in the middle ages, trying to enumerate all the things which I have to be thankful for is a daunting task. The original pilgrims were thankful for the fact that some of them survived, and that they were not in immediate danger of starvation. They had buried a lot of people in the past year. If I found myself in their position today my first response probably wouldn’t be thankfulness. My worst day at work would be a vacation for one of them.

If I were to try to list all the ways that my life is better than theirs, it would start with big stuff like warm housing and plentiful food, and end with little stuff like Galactic Civilizations 2 and the way flash memory prices have fallen this year. Along the way I’d need to cover things like antibotics and carpeting. It’s just ridiculous how good our lives are.

Would I be grateful if I won the lottery*? I already did. I was born into the middle class in the west during the second half of the 20th century. Very few human beings in the history of the planet were lucky enough to end up here. I could have lived during the great depression. Or been purged by Stalin. Been a Jew in Poland when the Germans came. Gotten “converted” during The Crusades. Buried my family as they died from the Black Plague. Had a limb sawn off in the Civil War. Gotten branded a heretic in the middle ages. Lived as a farmer during feudal times. Been a native American in the nineteenth century. Lived in Nanking when the Japanese came knocking. Lived in Rome during its decline. (If we are to believe Durant, then the population of Rome went from about a million at its peak to about 40,000 in the fifth century. I’m not even sure I’d want to be among the survivors of that.) Could have been a slave. Wound up a young girl in an arranged marriage to a guy two decades older than me at 14, then died in childbirth at 19. The catlog of human misery is such a massive volume that even the summary pages are beyond comprehension, and so far I’ve missed nearly all of it. Caesar never had it as good as I do.

* This is not to imply that I would ever play the lottery.

How does one express the appropriate level of thankfulness for this? Should I wake up each morning and cheer, “Alright! Another day free of dysentary! Woohoo!” If one of the pilgrims would have set down their description of what life would be like in a utopia, it would probably fall short of how I’m actually living.

Life is good. I express my gratitude the only way I can. I thank God.

Hope you had a great holiday.


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8 thoughts on “Thankful Day

  1. Brandon says:

    This is really a thought-provoking post. Thanks Shamus, for the perspective!

  2. Another thing to be grateful for is modern medicine. Stephen Jay Gould wrote a moving column one time about his visit to a very old graveyard in New England. He found a family plot where seven kids of the same parents were all buried. Six of them died within nine months of each other while still children. Only one of them lived a normal lifespan.

    300 years ago, high childhood mortality was a fact of life. Part of why they had large families then is that they had to in order to be sure that at least some of them would grow to adulthood.

    Today you have a happy, healthy daughter, not a grave to visit. I’d say that’s gratitude worthy.

  3. Mom says:

    Well done. And I know you are as thankful for your children as I am for mine:)

  4. Pixy Misa says:

    Yay for antibiotics!!!!

  5. josh says:

    Umm, a preposition is something that it’s perfectly acceptable to end a sentence with. It isn’t even awkward sometimes.

  6. benoitowns says:

    its perfectly acceptable to use prepositions to end sentences with. (or its perfectly acceptable to end sentences with prepositions.)
    But it is still grammatically incorrect.

  7. Joey245 says:

    Mr. Young, this has really opened my eyes to what Thanksgiving is all about. Would it be alright if I read this post to my family when we get together for Thanksgiving this year? I think that this perspective would do a great job of washing down the turkey.

    BTW, I’ve been reading your stuff for a year now. I’ve read nearly everything on this blog. And I never commented.

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