Now that I think about it, next to Valentine’s Day (Eros), Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Gratitude Day. Thanks-A-Lot Day. Lucretius Day….more about him later….what could be bad?
This is the one holiday, altogether secular …pray if you must…that commemorates no one or nothing except our good fortune to have landed here rather than there. We get to share with family and friends: to eat, drink and gather around the hearth even if we have no hearth. What a concept!
We let cantankerous, crusty Uncle Crazy come down from the attic. We offer a place at the table and test our patience with that neighbor who can’t stop talking and some in-law who never speaks. Everything is possible for a few hours particularly after a feast of gluttony followed by hours of sloth. This may be the one moment of the year when we put into practice William Blake’s notion that the road of excess leads to a palace of wisdom. My guess is that we feel more crapulous than sagacious.
Even if we have modest means or dine alone, the notion of gratitude can still apply. The grace inside gratitude is simply meeting the life around us, the turning of seasons, increments of changing light and resources we have to make our way.
Coming together is a kind of communal experience….pot luck dishes, pass the stuffing. We might even forgive ourselves for stealing Indian land and for four centuries of indulgence. This is where Lucretius comes in.
He was a noble Roman who lived in the century before the year one, Common Era. As a follower of Epicurus he wrote persuasively and poetically articulating our purpose in life as the pursuit of happiness. Not narcissism or hedonism but rather the embrace of life in all its wonder, variety and awe.
H. L Mencken defined Puritanism as the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy. Epicurus was much maligned by the papacy. Christianity, in its day, was (is) a doctrine of original sin, banishment, suffering, denial and penance. Two, four, six, eight let’s all go out and flagellate. As much as the holy church made room for pagan (peasant) beliefs and rituals they begrudged a philosophy of pleasure, except of course, for themselves in the upper echelons.
Let Thanksgiving abundance be our answer to a culture of pinched minds, self-denial, repression and eternal damnation. In his eloquent poem, The Nature of Things, Lucretius expressed the essence of Humanism. What seems so elemental and obvious (to me) was to the Roman church, subversion; namely, that the universe functions without the aid of gods, that fear is damaging to humanity and that happiness, compassion, bodily pleasure is itself a virtue. He went on to write about the delusion of an afterlife. I celebrate his heresy. When do we eat?