By November, we have a pretty clear idea of how the year has gone — what we’ve harvested, so to speak.
Some efforts led to bounty, while others withered on the vine. Whatever the outcome, it’s time to give thanks, even for the chance to try again.
And yet …
Gratitude can feel like heavy lifting, especially when life feels like a steady grind of meeting demands, wrangling family and remembering that we were going to shop for snowboots during last winter’s end-of-season sales.
It doesn’t help that daylight saving time now has ended, and that the sun will set around 5:30 tonight, instead of at 6:30 as it did last night. No night seems as dark as that first night of early darkness.
We start to feel put upon and underappreciated. We wonder who’s thanked us lately.
That’s the strange contradiction about gratitude: Being on the receiving end of someone’s thanks has us walking on those particularly puffy clouds that fill the autumn skies.
Yet when it comes to extending gratitude, we sometimes drag our heels, playing a game of, “You first.” Expressing thanks might make us feel indebted, even weak, which is a feeling most of us try to avoid.
We’re missing the point.
The crazy thing about being thankful is that it’s the shortest distance between feeling OK and feeling great. The sensation doesn’t light up the sky, but is more one of quiet satisfaction. We actually feel a little lighter for having breathed deep and clambered to that higher road.
It doesn’t really even matter what we say, but what prompts us. It’s not the feat; it’s the humility.
Minnesota’s state photo enshrines such a moment. Perhaps you were not aware that there is a state photograph?
Giving thanks even for little
The photo is called “Grace,” and it shows an old man in a plaid shirt, sitting at a rustic table before a loaf of bread and a bowl of soup. He’s resting his forehead against his folded hands, giving thanks for even this simple meal.
The photo was taken in 1918 by Eric Enstrom, a photographer in Bovey, a small mining town on the Iron Range that peddlers often passed through. As historical accounts tell the story, Enstrom was working on a portfolio to take to a convention of the Minnesota Photographers Association when an old man selling foot scrapers stopped by his studio. Enstrom was struck by the kindliness of the man’s face and asked if he would pose for him.
Enstrom later explained that he wanted to take a picture that would show people that, even as World War I was taking its horrific toll and wresting its sacrifices, they still had much for which to be thankful.
November is the one month when there’s a day specifically set aside for gratitude, a legal holiday built upon the notion of giving thanks for what the year has yielded.
Its origins may be literal, but the intent travels easily into less tangible harvests — of being thankful for a job, for family, for recovery, for friends, for favors extended, for a second chance.
Some years, it may stand just for having made it to November in one piece.
Come Thanksgiving, though, make sure to thank those who make the pies. We should always be grateful for pie.