It’s hard to say definitively if gratitude is a diminishing virtue. It feels that way sometimes. Cicero, for good reason, called gratitude the chief virtue and “the parent of all the others.” The more we recognize our blessings; the more we realize we are dependent on others and a higher power for sustenance and life.
Maybe we feel gratitude diminishing because we are less personal as more and more of our time is monopolized by screens. Perhaps it’s not as easy to be so thankful in a consumer culture where we are used to having most of our needs met quickly.
Black Friday, for many, overreaches now to Thanksgiving Day, as family or reflective time is crowded out by a need for stuff. Of course, there is nothing wrong with Black Friday or going out to find deals, but we should be careful to not let it bleed into a space that is more sacred.
There was a story I highlighted on another blog for Thanksgiving over ten years ago that has stayed with me for some reason. It was about a boy in Montana who was selling rare or unique rocks he found to help feed the hungry. “I think God has a purpose for me in selling rocks,” he said. It’s a great thing when we can be so humbled and shamed by children to be a better person.
Back when I was in college in Mississippi, returning from a football game, there was an old man who approached my apartment when I was on the balcony. He seemed fairly poor. He had a limp to his gait which might have been from polio as a child. I remember he had an old pair of overalls on and a truck that was straddling the “classic” category because of its age. A gentleman no doubt, but he was likely poor and definitely from a more rural area than where I was living. A note from my mom arrived in the mail at his house and it came with a fairly sizeable monetary check, at least for a college kid. It was delivered to the wrong address and he accidentally opened it. The man drove across several counties on the same day to make sure I received the check. He was concerned I might need the money right away. I doubt I did, but his immediate concern for the other was striking.
I thanked him and was impressed by his gesture. But it wasn’t really until a few minutes after he pulled away, that I felt the deeper impact of his generosity. It humbled me and made me wonder would I ever do the same thing for someone? Those are the kind of acts of generosity that stay with you and shape your character well into the future. Even living in a state with the moniker “hospitality state,” it was an uncommon gesture. You could easily argue his act of kindness has had more impact on me now than back then.
Thanksgiving and gratitude are paramount in a free society. Undoubtedly, they are an essential lynchpin of liberty that has helped shape this nation for the better. When we talk about freedom today, we often talk about freedom from something or being liberated from something. Of course, freedom requires much more. Thanksgiving reminds us too that freedom flourishes when we are tied down and grounded to the virtue of gratitude. It calls us to acknowledge that others have made our life so much better than it would otherwise be. It calls us out of ourselves and into a community. And only when we are called out of ourselves do we really have the capacity to expand freedom.