Thanksgiving in Portland: Gratitude and Guilt
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.
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?