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10 Reasons to be Thankful Today

by Matthew Fox, Ph.D.
(As published in the Contra Costa Times on November 22, 2001)

We have been told that after Sept. 11 nothing will be the same again. Is that true of Thanksgiving too? Will Norman Rockwell and the family turkey scene be lost as a memory? Might some other ways of thanking emerge that are more substantial and more real?

In the Native America tradition there is a spiritual practice to pray a thank you for one's enemies. Why? Because we are indebted to our enemies for bringing the best out of us. In the many responses our nation has had to Sept. 11, much of it can be described as our better natures emerging because of the situation. Consider some of the following reasons for giving thanks this Thanksgiving:

1. The media is giving us better stories.

Stories of real heroes, not just entertainment stars and sports heroes, have emerged. Instead we're hearing about heroes like firemen and policemen, and friends who helped one another or stayed with one another while undergoing the WTC collapse. We're reading about those who fought for control of the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. The theological word for 'hero' is 'saint.' It is good to know that ordinary people whom we encounter at work and on the subway (and in the mirror each morning) are potential saints and heroes.

2. The level of conversation has been elevated.

Serious issues are finally being discussed. Instead of talking about the stock market we are actually talking about evil. To talk about evil is not to think only about Osama bin Laden hiding in a cave in Afghanistan. It is to ask: How are we complicit with evil? How is our culture itself far from perfect and needing to wrestle with its own evil spirits? Erich Fromm, in his powerful book, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, points out that if we demonize Hitler and make him the soul object for our projections of evil we are missing the point of the Hitler experience. He was elected by ordinary Germans whose wounded and resentful souls he appealed to. So can we, ordinary American citizens, participate in evil if we are not alert. A raising of consciousness about evil is a raising of awareness about our very nature as human beings.

3. The young are considering better ambitions than merely: How can I make my million dollars before I am 26?

People of all ages, in fact, are asking questions like What really matters to me in life? Is my work what I really want to do with my life? Am I spending enough time with my loved ones? [What will I do with my life--will I serve and if so how? Or will I work to hoard?]

4. Our nation is learning about Islam and its diversity and how not to stereotype all middle-Easterners.

We are learning - hopefully - to insist on peace between Israel and the Palestinian state and, at home. to distinguish patriotism from jingoism and democracy from capitalism. This could lead to a genuine movement for democratic economics. It is one thing to have a political democracy, another to have an economic democracy.

5. We have also learned how generous we can be.

So far, more than $1 billion dollars has been collected from individuals and groups as charity donations. [Hopefully this thinking of others can continue and we will keep more modest charities in mind than just the "big boys" like Red Cross and United Way.]

6. A real sense of community and caring is coming out of us, spearheaded by New Yorkers.

Our eating of ashes and [undergoing] common grief puts us in the pool with all other humans who suffer and grieve and eat ashes on a regular basis. [To eat ashes is to taste of the horrors of emptiness and loss and grief. ]Suffering unites.

7. We are experiencing as a nation the deep mystical experience of Nothingness and the void and emptiness it creates.

Mystics agree that this tasting of nothingness is a time of great inner growth. Look at New York skyline and see the gaping hole where the Trade Center once existed. This hole is a reminder that all things humans produce pass. Indeed, all things do pass. Sic transit Gloria mundi. Letting go is good for the soul, even when it is not easy. As one great mystic has put it, the soul grows by subtraction more than by addition.

8. We are discovering new things about human nature.

One human being can do more evil than all the other species put together, Thomas Aquinas says. That says a lot about our species - we are very creative and therefore very powerful. How shall we use that power and creativity? Will it serve interests of greed and gluttony (today's word is consumerism) or will it serve generations seven generations from today?

9. The Tribute to New Yorktelethon of Sept. 21.

The media donated free time for artists to gather in New York, Los Angeles and London to serenade us when we needed it most. This was a great moment for television. All the artists sang for free as well, while others worked phone banks to raise money for victims' families. This demonstrated the power of television at its best. And of artists at their best. And the importance of the arts to speak on behalf of our souls - their grief and loss, their longing for hope and community.

10. We have been once again reminded of the fragility and preciousness of everyday life, of the sacredness of breath, of health, of loved ones and all our relations and learning not to take for granted. Perhaps this is the greatest gift of all.

Meister Eckhart, the great 14th-century mystic, made two observations that seem particularly relevant to this year's Thanksgiving. He said: All things bless God. Darkness, defects, even evil bless God and praise God. These 10 reasons demonstrate the truth of Eckhart's hard teaching that even evil blesses and praises God. A second lesson he offers us is: If the only prayer you say your whole life is 'Thank You,' that would suffice. Gratitude is so close to our being, so close to our being alive, so close to the reason we exist as a species, that it alone constitutes the true meaning of prayer.

So Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Even Thanksgiving 2001. Especially Thanksgiving 2001. And be sure to count your blessings, not just these 10, but [why not gather your family together and create together a list of ten more blessings you agree on.]
Matthew Fox, Ph.D.

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