A bottle of beer is unlikely to be on the list of things for which you are thankful this Thanksgiving Day. Despite the many extraordinary positive qualities of the beverage — including, for example, its nutritional value and contributions to good health — it will not rise much above the invisible.
And, more than likely, you will ignore it as a complement to the magnificent celebratory meal on your groaning Thanksgiving table.
Beer is not a thing for which drinkers are accustomed to give thanks. It is one of those things in the background of life that is always there, always available, cheap enough, unassuming and is, perhaps, a product of which we have few expectations. It’s just beer, after all.
Wine may rate a little higher on the thankfulness scale not, I suppose, because of any intrinsic quality but simply because it is considerably more expensive than beer and hosts probably are more conflicted about which wines to serve with the Thanksgiving meal than any other part of it.
Beer is one of those things that we take for granted. It is a small thing but, when more closely observed, a surprising thing; and as a metaphor for all the small things, and small events in small places, perhaps it has something to teach us about thankfulness.
That comes to mind this Thanksgiving season because, if Thanksgiving is about anything at all, it is about being thankful. Virtually our whole nation will be involved in the trappings of Thanksgiving — particularly the family gathering at Grandma’s for the great turkey feast on Thursday and, I hope, we shall all give generously to charities who serve the hungry and homeless.
But how many of us will actually be truly thankful, about what will we be thankful for and to whom, and how will we express that gratefulness and why?
It might be useful to ask ourselves whether we are good at thankfulness and even ask if it is a worthwhile emotion. I think it is one of the central emotions of the human experience and one we need to be a lot more comfortable with and a lot better at.
I wonder if we know what being thankful is anymore. Is the world just too full of objects, like bottles of beer, that we take for granted and accept merely as part of the background state of ordinary life in this ordinary place at this ordinary time? It seems to me that ungratefulness and unthankfulness are the ordinary way we approach life; the idea of seeing things to be grateful for in small objects and in small events in small places is anathema, or a lost art or a skill eroded by plenty.
Do we just have too much? Too much stuff; too much expectation; too much going on; too much entitlement; do we have just so much of everything altogether we cannot appreciate the wonder of small things let alone express thanks for them?
I was in Newport Beach this weekend to enjoy, as part of the exigencies of modern family life, a pre-Thanksgiving celebration. We had a wonderful time. Among the things I enjoyed was to see my grandson play so vigorously in his Friday evening football game; his personal success and that of his team was easy to be thankful for but, surprise, shortly after the game started it began to rain; not real rain, like rain-rain, but microscopic spots of a very heavy fog that years ago in Britain we used to call “damping”; I watched it with pleasure as it drifted shining past the floodlights. Though it was wetting enough it was delightful, and I relished it and gave thanks for that wonderous thing: small things in small places.
My Mother always had a word for it; simple aphorisms that she took for wisdom. As a small boy I never entirely understood my mother’s quotations because, I suppose, I was escaping from the Victorian Wales that was her core and where the metaphors she used were well understood.
In her oft-used “Be thankful for small mercies” I never really knew what a mercy was. I assumed it meant I should be thankful for being excused from a malfeasance or bad behavior or even spared a beating (though that would be a pretty big mercy). Later, I took “Be thankful for small mercies” to mean that we should be grateful for the small things of life because there was no expectation of great things.
My Mother most often used the phrase when things could have turned out much worse: “So! You fell off your bike! Be thankful for small mercies!” (meaning: at least, you were not hit by a car).
But I have come to understand her admonition to be thankful for small mercies in a sense much closer to that of rain reflected in the floodlights; that is, that life is full of small mercies, small objects and small events in small places, like a shining passing mist, that should ever surprise us and for which we should be thankful; such recognition and gratefulness brings us alive in the world and affords us joy minute-by-minute.
We sacrifice too much that life has to offer when we fail to recognize small mercies as mercies at all, or assume they merely meet our expectations or are rightfully ours and even that we deserve them; gratefulness or thankfulness is not a common emotion. It takes practice.
My mother was an expert at being surprised by small mercies and being thankful for them, because she knew that things could be so much worse. We should be experts at being surprised by small mercies and being thankful for them, because in recognizing them all around us they bring us joy. Such thankfulness can be improved by practice.
During this Thanksgiving holiday may I suggest that, when we enjoy a bottle of beer (or wine), we make the deliberate effort to truly appreciate it for the small mercy of nature and of the human hand that it is; let it surprise us and then let us be thankful for it and take it for a metaphor of all those other things for which we have yet to learn to be thankful.
— Reach Michael Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com