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Thanksgiving in Portland: Gratitude and Guilt

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I don't know if there is anything like Thanksgiving for bringing out Portlanders in all their Portland-ness. If the vivid argument in the comments in one of my recent posts is any indication, those of us who are not minorities, who are not lower-income, who are not struggling, feel a great deal of guilt about our relative status. We as a people (we Portlanders) are either pointing out our own wronged status, or we're identifying so much with other wronged peoples that we get in internet (or public) arguments in which we passionately assert the rights of minority groups to be angry about the wrongs inflicted upon them. And are we not all minorities, in some way? Surely all of us have some part of our experience that marks us, makes us different, would (if called out by someone else at, let's say, a Thanksgiving dinner table) give rise to judgments and widened eyes.

And Thanksgiving. With its focus on food and the fraught relationship between the caucasian immigrants and the dark-skinned natives. How some of our ancestors were grateful and others were slaughtered. How all this is caught up in religion and bigotry and intolerance. All of us come from people who were, at one point or another, viewed as The Other. All of us at some time in our lives have participated in the celebration of the corporate food-purveyor who, slowly and viciously, turned our regular commemoration of harvest into a week-long orgy of consumerism, from the branded stuffing mix to the branded turkey to the branded standing in line for Black Friday and all the black days after that. When we spend to show our gratitude, our patriotism, our love.

I asked my oldest son to research, to tell his brothers about the real story of Thanksgiving.

I am Portlander through and through, and I can't stand to let him and his brothers go to a big feast with turkey and pumpkin pie and green beans and mashed potatoes, without first thinking about who the people were, who came to the U.S.; and who the people were, who reluctantly gave them knowledge and soon were routed, were given diseases, were slaughtered, were shushed and shuttled into tiny bits of land to make up for taking all the rest of it.

And it's not the only guilt, this guilt of history, of whiteness, of privilege. We have the guilt of not being good enough, good enough parents, and housecleaners, and bakers, and sons and daughters, and partners, and employees. I have this guilt: I do not clean the house well enough, I do not do a good enough job of keeping my kids off the screens, I do not send packages in time, I never finish things when I should, but later, much later. I do not give enough to people less fortunate them me. I do not organize my kids to volunteer on Thanksgiving, or really, any other day. It's all I can do to manage these three boys and their own needs with my husband far away, I think, and my heart burns because that does not seem like a good enough excuse.

Few families do a wonderful job of interfacing at the holidays without feeling or instigating the feelings of guilt. One day I spend the day hurrying and shopping and I see everyone around me telling the other people how they were wronged. And all through it my littlest boy is happy! Happy! Happy! He is not wronged. He is not feeling guilt.

So I am supposed to be happy too. I am supposed to be grateful! This is Thanksgiving! I am trying: I am so grateful for my privilege, for my ability to spend too much on brussels sprouts picked by a sweet family and sold direct at a sweet vegetarian market, for sharing a half of a grass-fed cow with friends, for friends on Facebook and Twitter and on this blog and in real life, for a place to go even though I am not spending this holiday with my family of origin or my husband-who-is-in-Kuwait, for a stove that works and a beautiful big window to look out at the gorgeous colors of the maple and cherry trees and sharp knives and good coffee. There is so much to love.

I find it hard to be grateful purely, without feeling the guilt too. I find it hard to make a feast (or any part of it) without thinking, oh, my kitchen floor is a disaster, or oh, I spent too much on those brussels sprouts, or oh, I should be writing a post write now marketing my magazine. I just shouted at my son because he was playing with his friend instead of looking up the real story of Thanksgiving. Now he feels guilty. I am trying. My trying is not always that great.

Do you, too, have a hard time feeling grateful without also feeling the guilt? Or do you not feel grateful at all? Or are you good at this, can you feel pure gratitude this time of year, and how did you get there?

Comments

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Sara, I know that I'm frequently quite something of a shit stirrer and devil's advocate, often prone to disagree (though I try to keep it reasonably polite), but thanks for a really nice piece (especially the first part)--that much more eloquently makes the point I was trying to make earlier.

Not to mention, as women, we've ALL experienced discrimination. Sad but true.

Moving back to the main point of your piece----while I don't generally feel guilt per se, I don't really even LIKE Thanksgiving. Since it's basically about stuffing yourself silly, I really can't even see the point of the hallowed spot it occupies.

I think it's great to appreciate what you have, but I kinda feel we should incorporate that into our lives every day. I even really enjoy eating, but Thanksgiving is purely for gluttony, And even creature comfort me finds it a bit gross.

Minus the fun of Christmas, Halloween or Easter---and without the excitement of July 4th (though since my b'day the 5th, there might be some partiality, there). Or maybe it's just because I frequently worked on Thanksgiving in the past, so it just doesn't hold the same meaning.

Or maybe I miss how it used to be in NYC, seeing the balloons the night before along Central Park, or visiting all the Christmas windows the next day. Though I don't have those feelings about any other holiday not spent in NYC.

For me it isn't guilt, but somehow Thanksgiving just seems like a pale, empty, pre-Christmas wannabe.

We have no extended family here in town so we created a new tradition of a soak at Bagby hot springs... followed by the listening to the Alice's restaurant song and a Chinese dinner out. So relaxing!

Yup, guilt too, mostly about privilege. And I feel privileged above and beyond most of the privileged around me, because I live partly on inherited family stocks. Capitalism is a bad, bad word. And yet. I'm able to be a full-time mom to my astounding, precious little girl because some ancestor 75 years ago made certain I'd be able to. I give a lot of money away, both to various local and international non-profits, and to friends as needed, and I love that I can do that.

I am so grateful for what I have. I'm grateful for the conscience and consciousness that pricks me to question it and use it as well as I can. Lack of money worry (which I have had in the past) is priceless. Having my daughter by my side throughout each day and night is a boundless (and exhausting) blessing. Relative health. Healthy relatives. A close, real and loving family. Dear friends. Envelope-pushing relationships, pain, responsibility, growth, unfurling. I have an amazing life.

Guilt as a side dish to it all. May I have the perspective to let love me my guide regardless.

We hosted a group of 14 in our tiny condo yesterday, and I can't recall feeling guilty even once. The food preparation was grueling, but I felt grateful that we could afford it all. And that we are all here to enjoy an evening with each other. Last year, Thanksgiving was cancelled and spent at the hospital with a family member who nearly died.

I practice gratitude every day, many times a day, and am involving my kids as much as they are willing. Today, rather than shopping or getting swept up in the chaos that's coming with Christmas, we talked about all the ideas we have for giving back this month. Our family is blessed in many ways, but our life is challenging and uncomfortable more often than not. It's all about how you see the world. Life can always be harder. There is always something to be grateful for.

I don't have guilt this time of year. I have small doses year round, and I attribute them to being a parent, and about things personal, not global.

I like the idea of thankfulness year-round. While talking about Thanksgiving with my observant Jewish friends, I was told that they do not need to have a special holiday to give thanks, that they do this every day, all day long. I like that idea.

Yesterday, I had the most laid back, least stressful Thanksgiving ever, just me, my daughter, my friends and their high-school aged son. I go there every year, as they are my chosen family, but usually, the whole city is there! This year, they were in their sweats and pjs, and no one felt sick after the small-scale and delicious meal. I didn't feel like hiding myself under a rock since I don't deal well with crowds, and we all went home feeling satisfied, with the kitchen clean. Oh, and we ate 45 minutes later than planned, but no one cared. While I miss my best friend who is in India this Thanksgiving, I hope for many more stress-free holidays when we appreciate the small things in life.

And no shopping today. Or tomorrow. Or until after Christmas. Thankful for that!

Guilt? Not over privilege. No guilt here that I don't have to worry about money. Why should I? I have worked hard to earn it. And I'm grateful all year round. I guess if I was living off of someone else's free money like the commenter above, I would feel guilt.

@Anna, don't feel guilty that you are so fortunate! Though I will now confess to feeling a mite jealous. It sounds like you don't equate money with quality of character, feel grateful and try to do good with your luck. Nothing wrong there.

Anna, I join you in feeling the guilt of privilege as my financial security also comes from business decisions made by ancestors. Before having kids I had a career that I loved. I worked hard. I earned money. I was making a contribution to society. But then there was the guilt of leaving a sobbing toddler when I could afford to stay with him. And the stress of trying to do more than I could and the guilt of not doing anything well enough. And then the guilt of motherhood won out over the guilt of privilege.

I am Thankful for all my good luck. For a loving family, a simple childhood, generous grandparents. But I also worry that good luck isn't infinite. That I am using more than my share, or indulging in too much at once or something. I think I would feel guilt and worry no matter what my circumstances. Guilt was not increased by Thanksgiving though.

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. Partly because my birthday occasionally falls on it and partly because I grew up in a vegetarian family and loved the rare treat of turkey (plus wiped cream is one of my favorite foods!). This was an especially good Thanksgiving with two gatherings involving most of my extended family, including two grandparents in their late 80's who are still healthy. I am grateful.

I don't feel guilty at the holidays. I feel fortunate, to be luckier than some, and I try to keep that in mind in all my actions, especially this time of year.

I think we can talk about what we are grateful for without being dismissive of folks who like to address inequity that either they themselves or others experience. Even if it isn't our experience.

At holiday time, the guilt I hear about is about gifts (too much/too little/too plastic), not getting the house clean enough, having to take kids to childcare while school is out, not being close as we'd like to family, etc.

I think it's an awesome time to reach out to folks that may be slightly outside your circle. People feel so isolated at this "happy" time of year. When mine was little, we would always pick out a toy for the Toys for Tots box. Even when the whole Christmas budget was $20. Christmas was never a big gift-giving day for us. Families we knew of any economic status, tended to go overboard. My kid never got EVERYTHING for Christmas so that kept it manageable in our house. I did feel guilty about not decorating and being anti-Christmas tree. The kid guilted me into doing that "Cut down your own tree" business one year. I have always craved a ppink and silver artifical tree. However, it was ingrained in me that it was garish to have such a thing.

So many emotions around holiday season.

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