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To Be Thankful Requires Humility

To be thankful for anything much at all requires humility, I believe. I have little enough of it; in fact, I have a dichotomy common to alcoholics, and that is a combination of both arrogance and self-loathing. Hardly conducive to genuine humility. Another subject almost certainly.

There is never enough more. It is an almost constant desire in the human spirit.

It was not until late in life when I heard a definition of Nirvana, the Eastern concept of serenity, bliss, or simply peace. This definition — and I’ve forgotten where I read it — was prefaced with a quote from (I’m almost sure, but by no means certain) the Buddha/Siddhartha Gautama (in his later version of himself), the ultimate master of this business; that quote: “A man could be born a blind leper in a ring of fire and know only Nirvana.” The definition that followed was to the effect that “Nirvana is a state of wanting nothing, rejecting nothing.” This, to the western mind at any rate, is quite a trick.

Gratitude — or perhaps my most dramatic introduction to the concept, along with its genuine, unsuspected utility to a material-oriented mind — came in an embarrassing (I’m tempted to say humiliating, but what I really mean is “humbling”) way.

I was temporarily homeless; not for long, but long enough. I had wet clothing from having passed out on a lawn with a sprinkler timer. Drenched, I was freezing and miserable in, I think, November. Shivering, I lay under someone’s stairway in Hillcrest. Pneumonia was a looming possibility, if not hypothermia. At just past dawn, the sky a kind of dirt, salt, and ash, a man descended the above staircase with an armload of clothes. All dry. All my size. Exactly. If I did not weep, I seem to remember doing so. I thanked the man. Then I did something atypical for me at the time: I prayed.

It is far from my intention to preach, to convert anyone, or influence the agnostic; all I can honestly tell you is that from that moment on, having expressed real gratitude (and that’s what it was), my life began to improve, by increments but undeniably. It was as if I had uttered a heartfelt invocation to a power greater than my considerable ability to misuse my free will. A god or God — as I’ve come to spell it.

This is to say nothing of my ability to completely space on gratitude, usually by indulging in self-pity and despair, each of which is the opposite of gratitude. All that comes to mind here is a quote from C.S. Lewis (yes, the Narnia author), who in quite another book pointed out that “There are only two types of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ ” This latter allowance of the Deity (if you don’t mind the word) is Hell of a self-engineered type — and I don’t believe there are many other types. Well, maybe. Even quite possibly, but I am no theologian.

As for Thanksgiving and saying a more elaborate grace over the turkey, and the rest of it, it is not necessarily my idea of gratitude. It qualifies, but I once heard a man say to a whining youth, with regard to the youth’s bad luck and poverty and what might be done about it: “Start with gratitude for what you do have; the smallest things. Your life, your breath, your socks — even if you have holes in them — you have socks. It’s a place to start; a way to open the door a crack to principles larger than yourself, and that’s all you need: the door open a crack.” At the risk of sounding like a religious maniac (you have no way of knowing how funny that is), I have found this door-crack principle to be very real.

I have heard much of “gratitude lists” and the like, and they don’t sound like bad ideas, not at all; but it seems to me that one can open that crack in the door with an observation of one’s own breathing. Then maybe a raising of the face to the sunlight — or the eyes to the stars.

— John Brizzolara

This Year, We’re Staying Local

It’s late October and I am looking for a turkey, which is ironic. A decade ago, when I was a SWF, all I could find were turkeys. For a while, I even dated one. But now that I am looking for a real bird, there are none to be found.

Stan Glen, supervisor for Siesel’s Meats, laughs when I phone him to ask if I can order a local, raised-in-San Diego turkey for Thanksgiving. “You’re about 40 years too late,” he tells me. “But we have some Diestel free-range turkeys you can order for the holidays.”

I sigh. “I need a native,” I say, and there’s a pause on the other end of the line.

“This Thanksgiving, everything I make is going to be raised or grown in San Diego County,” I explain. I feel so virtuous saying this. So green. This year, I am putting down my fork and picking up a cause: I’m thinking globally, eating locally, and carrying all my ingredients in reusable shopping bags. Somewhere, Michael Pollan is smiling.

“There used to be a huge turkey industry centered in Ramona,” says Stan, “but the last Ramona-brand turkey was sold in 1994. Now you can’t get any meat that’s been raised in San Diego County.”

Dick Gilmore, customer-service representative at Siesel’s, has been in the meat business since 1958. He tells me that about 35 years ago, the health department wanted to cut down on the flies, because they thought it hurt the tourist industry. “So the head of the health department at the time — J.B. Askew — put so many restrictions on the growers, they all went out of business. Now you can’t just get in a car and go buy a turkey for the holidays like you think you oughta. They chased them all away.”

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Comments

Altius Nov. 24, 2009 @ 4:11 p.m.

Thank you, "Various writers" for your takes on Thanksgiving.

It's kind of sad to read how little of a true Thanksgiving feast originates in San Diego County. But I guess that's the point. We're all celebrating a feast based on New England foodstuffs. San Diego food SHOULD be different. Still, you'd think we could get bread from locally-grown grain. Then again, it hasn't rained here in eight months -- not ideal grain growing conditions.

John Brizzolara, your piece was touching. We all really need to start with gratitude for the most basic things: shelter, clothing, the ability to draw breath. It's hard to feel sorry for yourself when you're feeling grateful.

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David Dodd Nov. 24, 2009 @ 4:36 p.m.

While I'm partial to Brizzolara's style, I enjoyed the comparative nature of the different narratives. Grimm's conventionality, Lickona's slant on obedience, Barb's rebellious nature, and so on. A few weeks back, you guys took a couple of consecutive issues printing out a combination of stringer stories and blog entries/comments. If you could have focused that like you focused this, it would have been a smash hit.

I have a suggestion, based on all of this, but you'll have to act fast. Invite your bloggers and commentors and stringers to submit, say, three hundred words about Christmas, along with the staff. Pay any of the contributors, say, 30 or 40 dollars so it comes out similar to what you pay for a cover story. If you can put it together right, it would make for a wonderful read in the differences and similarites in how or why we celebrate Christmas.

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Fred Williams Nov. 24, 2009 @ 7:46 p.m.

Don Bauder is funny...but the kind of funny that makes you grit your teeth.

Gringo's idea is interesting. Though it sounds like a lot of work for the editor.

Altus, only if you believe in rain dances would you think growing grain in San Diego is a good idea...oh wait, you're a Creationist so you probably do believe in divine intervention upon request to change the weather.

Silly me. Never mind...

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David Dodd Nov. 24, 2009 @ 8:03 p.m.

Fred, I think the key is in simply accepting the right stories. They should, for the most part, be different. A bunch of people are probably going to write in with, "We get up and open our presents and then mom cooks the Christmas ham and then we say grace...".

You take one or at the most two of those, and then throw in the, "First, at midnight, we all get naked and dance on the roof, shouting out the names of the reindeer while waving torches at the moon...".

Buffer that with some of the other neat and crazy stuff. I have absolutely no doubt that Christmas celebrations are so much more different than traditional Thanksgiving one's. My own habits have changed very much, I combine my mother's traditional Christmas Eve with my wife's traditional Mexican Christmas, and I cook a HUGE meal for Christmas evening and invite people without family to participate.

I would love to read about what other people do.

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Fred Williams Nov. 24, 2009 @ 8:31 p.m.

GringroRefrito...we have been accused elsewhere of using a translation engine to write in tongues.

Can you prove them wrong? Jak je tradični vanoční večeře? Ktera jidlo? A od chud je mama tvuj - jestě žije? Omlouvam že čestina psani je uplne hovno, ale jsem blb, Amik že vubec nemluvil ani slovo před je mi byl 23 let.

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rickeysays Nov. 25, 2009 @ 5:08 p.m.

Pamela you're a well-intentioned idiot. You burned up more gas trying to buy local then you would have been responsible for the consumption of if you'd just gone to the store. Look up two basic economic principles: economies of scale, and comparative advantage. They both apply to what you're trying to do.

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David Dodd Nov. 25, 2009 @ 5:36 p.m.

Ricky, according to the story, Pamela drives a hybrid. While your statement concerning economics is certainly valid, it doesn't seem that Pamela over-harmed the environment attempting to deliver a home-grown Thanksgiving spread.

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rickeysays Nov. 26, 2009 @ 1:14 a.m.

So she wasted less gas than she would have otherwise. It still illustrates the goofy decisions the "environmentally conscious" sometimes make in the name of saving the planet. I gave her credit for good intentions. But sometimes a little more thought, maybe spiced with a little more knowledge, is called for.

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David Dodd Nov. 26, 2009 @ 1:21 a.m.

Fair enough, rickey. When you live in what's basically a desert, it's a little tough to expect that butter is readily available, home grown. But I do admire the spirit of the attempt.

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