Tonight I happily took part in yet another Thanksgiving feast, this one with twenty or so colleagues who also happen to be excellent cooks. I lustily scarfed down all of the foods the whole family missed out on last week, when, thanks to the stomach flu, chicken soup as about exciting as the menu got. Between dinner and dessert, we all gathered in a circle in the living room, and each of us in turn shared with the group what he or she was thankful for. My turn came up quickly, and even though we've technically just finished the Thanksgiving holiday proper and I should still have my list on the tip of my tongue, I got caught off-guard. By the time we'd gone around the circle, I wished I could have another turn -- so I'm giving myself one now. Here, then, are a few important things I left out.
1. I'm thankful that I get to spend nearly all day, every day, reading, thinking, and learning about subjects that interest me. When I really stop to think about what a privilege this is -- people, I actually get paid to do this -- my mind boggles. It's easy to lose sight of how lucky I am when I get caught up in what I might ungratefully think of as the "daily grind" of academic life, which does, after all, require that I spend a fair number of hours out of the week doing work and attending events that are a real, no-two-ways-about-it waste of time. But, for the most part, my daily work is all for the benefit of my own intellectual development, in one way or another -- how many people can say that?
2. I am thankful to be hopeful about the future. Personally and professionally, I have plenty to look forward to in 2011 and beyond. While I am frequently amazed by how providentially my last couple of years here have unfolded, sometimes I forget to compare my current state of mind to the one I held not too long ago. For one thing, I thought it pretty improbable -- not unreasonably, I still maintain -- that I would ever meet someone I would want to spend the rest of my life with. It is amazing how much difference a hopeful outlook can make on the quality of daily life.
3. I am thankful to have a wealth of vivid memories of places I've been and people I've known to draw on whenever I like, and sometimes involuntarily. I've been fortunate to have traveled many places and to have gotten to know a lesser number of places extremely well, and it is an extraordinary gift to be able to return to an old familiar street, to put myself back in the company of an old friend or an interesting acquaintance, or to without even willing it be hurled across the country or across the ocean in my mind at the sight or sniff of an evocative image or smell. No matter where I go from here, I'll bring all of my experiences with me, and I'm thankful for that.
There are plenty of other things, too, big and little, abstract and concrete. It would take quite a few Thanksgivings to recognize and meditate fittingly upon all of the things I'm grateful for and should be more grateful for. Multiple Thanksgivings, hm -- not a bad idea.