One of Mark Twain's more interesting pieces for me is his short story War Prayer, which asks a very interesting question. When we ask for victory in war, what are really asking for? For when one thinks of ones country being victorious in war, we very rarely think of the consequences, for the lives lost, the blood shed, or the psychological wounds that are created by war.
I would like to ask with this article, a question that might seem unrelated, but I think is very much in the same vein as Twain's question. When we give thanks, what are we really giving thanks for? For example, when we give thanks for the food we have, do we think of the possible workers who may have been exploited in the name of corporate profits, so that we may have that food?
Make no mistake, I am grateful for what I have. I know my current situation, while far from ideal, could be worse.
But this is going to be the first Thanksgiving I will be celebrating following the death of my Aunt Janine from breast cancer. She had been first diagnosed shortly before I graduated college. The first instance was eventually beaten into remission. Then two years later, the cancer came back.
This was last year, several months before Thanksgiving. Not knowing the exact situation, I sent an email to her, asking if it would be okay if I were to come down to their place on Long Island to cook Thanksgiving dinner there myself.
She emailed me back informing me that the cancer was terminal. I remember wanting to send something, to make some final statement to her. I didn't want to call because I was afraid of interrupting some valuable rest time. I wanted to send an email but frequently ended up finding myself staring at a blank computer screen, unable to write anything.
It turned out that Thanksgiving was the last meal that Aunt Janine was able to eat solid food. She passed away several days later.
This past October, which happens to be Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I found myself reading about Pinksploitation and how slapping a pink ribbon on everything allows some corporations to wrack up large profits while continuing to use known carcinogens in their products.
I don't know what I should be thankful for in this situation. I just think it needs to be said that not every cloud has a silver lining. There really are certain situations that are just plain awful.
Yes, I know the dangers of overly negative thinking as well as anyone. I am very aware how giving into negative feelings can cause one to lose all hope. I know how easily despair can bring one's life to a grinding halt. Being depressed or sick sucks, but stigmatizing those who are mentally ill or otherwise unhealthy, by making them feel guilty for their feelings or telling them that there is something "wrong" with them solves nothing. I refuse to tell someone they have to feel better about their own situation and that they should therefore focus on and be grateful for those things that they do have.
I know as an exercise, that it can be useful to focus one's thinking on the good things one has to help oneself feel better. But about a month ago, I was in a situation that made me feel very, well, depressed. I found myself thinking of the things I did have and as a result, found myself becoming even more depressed over the situation. Why, when I have all these good things in my life, should I be depressed? Surely there must be something wrong with me for *being* depressed when I do have so much to be thankful for.
It was only after I came to the realization, that hey, there really is nothing wrong with me for being depressed, that I started to find myself (oddly enough) feeling better. Telling myself that I was not to blame for being sad and upset was what allowed me to feel better. It was not thinking about the good things I have which enabled me to break out of the period of depression I found myself in.
As far as LGBTQ rights go, I can say that I am somewhat grateful that as a nation we are making progress towards marriage equality. I am thankful that the state I live in (New York) has laws against employers discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.
But I am not grateful for the fact that ENDA has not yet passed at the Federal level, nor am I happy about the fact that GENDA (legislation that would outlaw discrimination on the basis of gender identity) has languished for so long in New York State.
I am also not grateful for how the marriage equality movement has taken so much attention away from these important pieces of legislation or from other issues that so desperately need our focus.
I find it difficult to be grateful when organizations such as the Salvation Army continues to discriminate against the LGBTQ community or when organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America still send the message to our community's youth that there is something fundamentally wrong with with being queer.
I am frustrated that the struggles for civil rights of the Transgender and Transsexual communities continue to receive far too little attention and political action.
I can say that I am grateful that I have never experienced homelessness or been sexually assaulted but I refuse to give thanks to a world in which the condition of homelessness exists and in which rape culture is celebrated by the mainstream.
Ultimately, I think there is something problematic about a culture that only celebrates that which is positive and refuses to critically think about any possible shortcomings. "We ARE number one and you HAVE to be grateful for that" is not a great message to tell people who have terminal or long term debilitating illnesses, who are unemployed or living in poverty, who are marginalized, or who live in constant fear, be it from bigotry or the possibility of facing overt violence.
All I ask is that people give some real thought this year to what we are really giving thanks for.