An Essential Thanksgiving

Is it insensitive to revel in moments of gratitude and thankfulness during a global pandemic? I have asked myself that question often since March. We have become painfully aware of the struggle of so many people by watching and counting the numbers of positive COVID-19 cases in the world and our country, our city and even our school. We probably know someone who has been terribly sick, and yet, we also know that this virus has caused us to slow down and focus on what energizes us, connects us, and brings us hope.

Studies have shown that developing an attitude of gratefulness is an important component of wellness. But finding ways to remain grateful can be a tall order when we are challenged by the trifecta of health concerns, economic uncertainty, and social injustice. Still, it seems that trying times like these can actually deepen our gratitude and help us emerge stronger and more grounded.

As we arrive at this uniquely American holiday during which we commemorate thankfulness, we must remember Thanksgiving’s origins. It grew out of a time of hardship. It was declared a national holiday in the middle of our country’s darkest hours of the Civil War, and it was permanently placed on the fourth Thursday of November just after the Great Depression. It appears that being thankful is most essential in times of pain and loss, rather than times of celebration and prosperity.

Most psychologists agree that the opposite of thankfulness is entitlement — the feeling that good happens to us because we deserve it. If we, instead, develop an attitude of gratefulness when good things happen, then the joys — big or small — become gifts, not expectations. Developing these habits help us focus on what we value most, even when life challenges us.

Having students on campus since August has been a true gift. I took it for granted that we would be together in years past. Watching our seniors rise to the challenge of leading our school, as they have in previous years, is even sweeter this year. Reading their beautiful letter to the community about how to treat each other during an election and a pandemic is inspiring. Seeing 5th- and 6th-grade girls on the playground, chasing each other and rolling in the grass is more beautiful. Watching a prospective student run into Souby after her tour, declaring that she definitely wants to come here, brings me greater joy this year. Even the autumn light on campus in these last few weeks has been magnificent in a way I have never fully appreciated.

Before school on Friday morning, I saw four of our largest tents filled with girls enjoying a student council sponsored “gratitude breakfast.” While eating their chicken biscuits, they made stickers that completed the sentence, “I am grateful for…”. They made leaves for the “gratitude tree” in the upper school. They filled the branches with thanks. They were grateful for the dining hall staff, who made the biscuits early that morning. They were grateful for their teachers persevering and working hard to teach them in the most challenging of classroom circumstances. They were grateful for their friends and the time together. They showed us what we should be counting this year — all of the reasons to be thankful.