This week’s Weekly Photo Challenge is: Thankful.
Initially, the theme — to be blunt — irked me. How lame! I thought when I saw it. How predictable! Haven’t we had enough of public displays of “gratitude” and “thankfulness” for a while? And then I immediately felt guilty for being such an ingrate. But, how, I thought would I show gratitude in the types of photos that I shoot? But, I didn’t ponder that dilemma as much as I pondered why I felt so jaded by displays of gratitude via social media.
It isn’t that I’m not thankful for things. I am: my family, my friends, my home, my food, my health, my general comfort level, my intelligence, my ….. Perhaps that was it: everything was “mine“. Since the beginning of the month several of my friends have been posting daily “I’m thankful for …” status on Facebook. I started to participate in this exercise but had abandoned it by day four. I have tried to keep a gratitude journal before, with similar effect. It always seems that after a few days I realize how self-centered, rather than introspective, my thoughts of gratitude are. It makes all of the things that I am thankful for seem irrelevant.
If I think of these things in terms of “first-world problems” it makes it seem all the more trivial, and perhaps even down right selfish. My problems aren’t problems to someone who doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from; who doesn’t know when they will see their children again because the only work is days away from home — or if those children are safe from war, unrest, famine, disease; who can’t imagine how their children’s lives can ever be different if they can’t read or write. Or closer to home: what will happen when the bank account is depleted, when the food stamps and public assistance run out, when the gas is turned off, because there hasn’t been work for several weeks, or there isn’t an affordable and safe place to live, or there isn’t enough money to pay for both healthy meals and medicine.
It is why I always feel queasy when I hear someone say “There but for the grace of God, go I”. That statement makes it seem as if God took favor upon a person — spared them cancer, or hunger, or financial ruin. What is the inverse of that? That the troubled person has not had the Grace of God? I don’t think it works that way. If it did, I wouldn’t want to be a part of it. Similarly, this is why platitudes of thanksgiving ring hollow for me: much of which I have to be thankful for is due to lucky circumstances of time, class, society. I wouldn’t want to do without them, but it isn’t what makes me thankful. I don’t want my thankfulness to be focused on things, on the details of my life.
I was thinking these thoughts today when I wandered by the window and happened to notice a large swatch of red moving quickly out of view. I went to grab my camera and long lens. The cardinal was still nearby, though he never stood still quite long enough for me to compose and shoot. After a few attempts, I looked beyond the patio where the cardinal was to the woods that stretch behind our home and towards our neighbors. There were more swatches of red — robins, cardinals and woodpeckers. An afternoon convocation! At one point, I spotted 1 pileated woodpecker, 2 red-headed woodpeckers and 2 northern flickers all happily flitting from tree to tree looking for bugs.
Again, I could be thankful that I have a warm, safe home with a beautiful view of birds and trees and non-threatening wildlife. (It isn’t like bears or tigers are likely to maul me here.) But, can I be thankful for the birds? And why exactly, would I be?
It was then that I realized that I am thankful for a sense of wonder that I feel when I am taken away from the “stuff” of my life and observe the life that goes on around me. I can laugh that it seems as if there is a regular 2 o’clock coffee clatch of birds near the feeders, or that I can enjoy watching the squirrels chase each other down the drive and back into the trees. But they don’t do those things for me. Those aren’t things that I have. They would happen whether I observed them or not. They happen whether I am here or not. And the animals don’t give a rat’s ass about me; as long as I don’t intrude upon their habitat or try to capture them for food, they are oblivious to my actions, my concerns, my life.
It is this realization that I am grateful for. To realize that life goes on without me. It goes on without each of us as individuals. It isn’t here for our enjoyment, but it is something that we can enjoy. The world may not be about us, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t have to be about the world.
It isn’t things that we should be thankful for; we should just be thankful for life — the lives of our families and friends, the lives of those we interact with regularly, the lives of those we intersect with briefly, and the lives of those whose spheres do not touch ours directly, but that share this planet as well. We should be thankful that we can laugh, and cry and share those emotions with others. We should be thankful for our intellect and for our senses of humor; thought and laughter are vital to life and wholeness.
I am thankful that I got up today. I am thankful that those I love got up today. I am thankful that those I don’t know got up today and we all keep going on this weird, wonderful planet in our weird, wonderful lives.
I will be thankful tomorrow for the same. I’m glad that the squirrels and birds helped me to realize this — even if they don’t have a clue that they did.
Other entries into this week’s Photo Challenge can be found here. Likely they did not take the same rambling approach as I did.