Sometime between September and November 1621, around the time of the fall harvest, a group of 53 European pilgrims gathered in the New World to celebrate. They were joined by members of the Wampanoag tribe, native Americans that had helped the settlers survive the previous winter. They were there to celebrate the fact that they had plenty of food stores to survive their second winter there.

When the settlers left Europe, there were 102 of them. When they celebrated a successful harvest, a little over a year later in the fall of 1621, there were only 53 of them left. Over half of the settlers had perished along the way.

They gave thanks.

It seems a human truth, that we appreciate our blessings more when framed by our adversities. Giving thanks inherently has an either/or component to it, it seems. When we are thankful for what we have, we must take into account the possibility of not having it. We frame our blessings with our adversities.

I have very few adversities. My challenges, my hurdles, the fights I fight…most are problems of abundance. I am blessed, and most of my struggles would seem blessings to those that are truly without.

Ironically, this could make thanks slightly more difficult for me. I’ve never known hunger, or homelessness, or been destitute. I never went without. I never really wanted for something that wasn’t there, I just maybe wanted more of it. Problems of abundance.

So as we enter into the Thanksgiving holiday, I will strive to truly be thankful. I will work to compare my blessings to the true adversities that exist in the world, the type of want I’ve never truly felt, the type of struggle that may be so removed from my awareness that true thanks may be slightly outside of my ability.

The paradox of thanks, that those that are so abundantly blessed may not have a comparative baseline to truly understand how thankful they should be. That their blessings are so full, that they will have to work to be truly thankful; the sort of thankful that isn’t rooted in just celebrating what you have, but is rooted in knowing what being without would mean in comparison.

In the fall of 1621, a group of 53 settlers, having lost half of their number in the previous year, looked to the coming winter and estimated they had enough food stores that they wouldn’t starve.

They gave thanks.

John Anderson