I was in the middle of a root canal when I began to think about gratitude. To be clear, I was not performing the root canal. It was being performed on me. I had a jaw full of Novocain, and though I was numb, I had the distinct impression that the doctor was all but jumping up and down on my tooth as he filled in the space where the nerves had been.
Perhaps it was the Novocain talking, but in the midst of my discomfort, I started thinking about all that I had to be grateful for. I began to think of my wife, my children, my siblings and my friends. It still felt like the doctor at any moment would be apologizing for accidentally disconnecting my lower jaw, but now I felt calmer. Being grateful puts things in the best possible perspective.
That’s why I’m thinking that Thanksgiving couldn’t come at a better time this year.
Our political system is inflamed with hostility and resentments. Our Church is riddled with scandal, division and distrust. The planet is warming to a dangerous level.
The Red Sox even beat my Dodgers.
We’ve got a lot on our minds, and most of it is bad. It feels like someone is jumping up and down on our spirit.
Times like this try our souls, threatening to turn us into fuming hashtags on social media, honking at strangers on public streets and unfriending friends digitally or otherwise.
We are dispirited, as if some sort of unhappiness virus has been unleashed on us. Our economy is on a sugar high from all the tax cuts and booming. Yet pollsters tell us we remain darkly worried about our country’s future.
We aren’t grateful. We are fearful. Fearful of a ragtag band of people walking north in the hopes of finding the American dream. Fearful of those who don’t look like us. Fearful of those who do look like us but who harbor terrible hatreds, even violence, in their hearts.
And all this happening in the richest, most powerful, most materially blessed nation in the history of the world.
Thanksgiving couldn’t come at a better time this year, because gratitude is the one inexhaustible natural resource we seem to have a shortage of these days.
We start with gratitude for our country. We are certainly not perfect. Yet it is so easy to forget the rights we have been given and the opportunities that are available to us.
Those of us born here had no say in selecting our birth country, so America is a true gift, an unmerited blessing. We can also be grateful for the immigrants among us. Their sacrifices and their commitment to better their lives are a constant reminder of the blessings we sometimes take for granted.
And as we put away the remains of the Thanksgiving feast — itself a blessing that embodies the abundance of our land — and prepare for Advent, we must remember to be grateful for the gift of faith and for our Catholic Church.
The Church has taken some big hits lately. That they are mostly self-inflicted is heartbreaking. Yet we must recall the good priests, the dedicated nuns, the faithful laypeople who remain everywhere around us if we look for them. They are the hands and feet and face of the Lord we profess to follow, the Lord whose Incarnation we are about to celebrate.
President Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It breeds envy and resentment. Gratitude, however, breeds both joy and humility, thankfulness for graces received. Even for a successful root canal.