Thanksgiving – a holiday that asks us to step back, examine our lives, and demonstrate gratitude for the things we take for granted, day in and day out. If you’re having trouble figuring out what you should be thankful for, then you’re in luck! Here are five reasons (and five short stories!) that will help you appreciate your friends, your family – in some cases, your rights. Some of these stories exaggerate issues to draw attention, some of them are dead earnest – all of them will help you give thanks.
1. Be thankful that not everyone is considered “equal” in all senses of the word.
Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron” (1961), available in Vonnegut’s “Welcome to the Monkey House,” or online, here: http://www.wordfight.org/bnw/bnw-unit_packet.pdf
Kurt Vonnegut’s legendary satire plays with a simple idea, easily summed up with the opening paragraph, quoted below.
“It was the year 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.”
The satire suggests that the government should not go to too much length to even out inequalities, because some individuals are endowed with certain skills that shouldn’t be suppressed based on the deficiencies of others. In the story, dancers are forced to wear weights to make themselves less graceful; Harrison Bergeron’s father must endure painful beeping from a sensor in his head when the machine detects that he is thinking at a level beyond the capacity of the average American.
A reaction against Communism and extreme forms of socialism, “Harrison Bergeron” will leave you thankful for the fact that the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments have not yet been passed.
Now, from a less satirical perspective –
2. Be thankful for shelter.
Ray Bradbury’s “The Long Rain” (1950), available in Bradbury’s collection, The Illustrated Man, available for free online here: http://greenhumanities.edublogs.org/files/2012/09/Bradbury-Illustrated-Man-1wytglb.pdf
Though we now know Bradbury’s vision of Venus’ weather to be false, he certainly makes it feel real, and horrific (though Venus’ climate has been confirmed to be horrific). In the story, a team of astronauts crash lands on Venus, where the rain is nonstop, and aggressive plants absorb the bodies of the fatigued. Their only hope – a man-made shelter named the Sun Dome, which may or may not be real. Even so, you’ll be long thankful for shelter from the elements.
3.Be thankful for our soldiers.
Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” (1990) available in the novel/collection of interrelated stories, The Things They Carried.
Tim O’Brien’s acclaimed story evokes the horrors and challenges of the Vietnam War in vivid prose that is stunning, poignant, and at times, humorous. It’s even more powerful in the context of the book, featuring recurring characters and events inspired but fictionalized from O’Brien’s own war experience. If there’s any one lesson to take away from this incredible work, it’s that we must give thanks to our veterans.
4. Be thankful for the empathy that comes with sharing a meal.
Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” (1983): Available online, here: http://nbu.bg/webs/amb/american/6/carver/cathedral.htm
“Cathedral” concerns the experience of a bitter man who begrudgingly has a friend of his wife’s over for dinner. The catch – the man is blind, a fact that consumes the narrator’s prejudice. Over the course of the evening, and after partaking a great meal together, the narrator and the blind man connect in a profound way, as the narrator struggles to explain the concept of cathedrals to his guest. A startling work of empathy and overcoming prejudice, “Cathedral” is a great way to prepare for Thanksgiving.
5. Be thankful for understanding and forming connections across cultures, in a New World…
Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Third and Final Continent” (1999): from Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, available online, here: http://www.dequinix.com/a/continent.php
While Lahiri’s collection Interpreter of Maladies focuses on the struggles of Indian-American relations, she ends her collection on a positive note. “The Third and Final Continent” details the history of an Indian narrator who moves first from India to London, and from there to North America, eventually settling in the United States with his wife. His relationship with his elderly landlady helps him form the connections to make a smooth transition to American society.
“While the astronauts, heroes forever, spent mere hours on the moon, I have remained in this new world for nearly thirty years. I know that my achievement is quite ordinary. I am not the only man to seek his fortune far from home, and certainly I am not the first. Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have travelled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.”
Happy Thanksgiving! What are you thankful for? Comment below!