“The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.”
So, what did you give thanks for last weekend? Thanksgiving is a welcome event every year, a time when we can reflect on what we have that we value in our lives. It may be family, friends, health, or something less tangible. For some, it is a religious festival, giving thanks to God for blessings, for the annual harvest, for simply being alive in a beautiful creation. For others, it is a purely secular celebration, not so much giving thanks (after all, to whom would a non-believer give thanks?) As simply expressing joy in life, love, family and the happiness they bring. It’s one of those holidays that helps to balance out the negativity of much of the rest of the year.
Looking around the world these days, it is so easy to become discouraged, even cynical, about the way things are. Danger to the planet itself, violence and terror being inflicted on the innocent and defenseless, poverty and desperation, refugees risking everything for a better life for their children; all of these are ever-present in the media on a daily and exhausting basis.
Thanksgiving is a chance to step back and get a different perspective on things. There’s an old song that says: “Count your blessings, name them one by one”; the idea being that this will help you to realise the many ways in which you are blessed. That’s not a bad idea sometimes, and Thanksgiving is the perfect time to do it. It is one of the very few occasions when people will actually name what it is for which they are thankful, and that has got to be good, if not for the soul, than at least for the morale.
I think that some of the most thankful people in Canada this year are the newcomers, immigrants and refugees who have found a new land in which to grow and raise their children. Thanksgiving is a North American holiday, not celebrated in Europe, or elsewhere, except as a Harvest festival church service in places. Newcomers to Canada usually find it a wonderfully novel opportunity to express their appreciation for what they have found in coming here. That is something that critics of Canada’s immigration policies forget: that immigrants often have a deeper, more personal appreciation of what Canada is and offers than many of those who grew up here and can take those things for granted.
That is why that Bible verse at the top of the article means something very important to me. I’m an immigrant too. I can celebrate and be thankful that I can draw on the riches of two wonderful cultures, that I can appreciate what is best about Canada because I have experienced living somewhere else too. Immigrants get a sense of perspective on the place they came from, and the place they have come to, because, aside from being immigrants, they are also emigrants, with a wealth of experience and influences that can be applied to the new environment.
Sometimes, we immigrants can stand amazed at the complacency of those born here: and you feel like screaming, “Do you not realise what you have here? Don’t take it for granted, don’t let it slip away through neglecting it”. There’s another great saying, from the Scottish poet, Robert Burns: “O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us”, roughly translated (as you have to with Scottish poets!) as “O would some power the gift to give us to see ourselves as others see us”.
At Thanksgiving, it would be good if we could see ourselves as others see us, as they see Canada. No-one can deny me my joy in being Irish; but I chose to live in Canada. This is a place worth celebrating. That does not mean that we remain blind and deny the problems here. First Nations are being treated abominably in Canada: our own form of Apartheid. But we criticise and campaign for environmental safety, for justice and equality for all, not because we are negative and fail to appreciate what we have, but for the very opposite reason. We must look around and speak out against what’s wrong simply because we know we can be better than we are sometimes.
Cynicism has no place in thanksgiving. We really do have so much that is true and real for which we should be thankful. As for the rest, we need to strive to be better, to be what we know we can be. In this country, we have the right and freedom to work for change, to make the lives of all our neighbours better, safer, healthier. For the rest of the year, we can campaign, critique, debate and discuss as much as we can and should. At this time of Thanksgiving, we can stop a moment and reflect on what we have, what we value, and see again, clearly and joyously, that “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.”