Thank the Soil

In my family, as in so many American families who come together for Thanksgiving every year, there is a moment in the gathering where we are all seated around a table (or two or three tables), probably holding hands, and one by one share something we are thankful for.

For some it is a spiritual or religious moment of praise and thanks to a higher power for blessings on the family. For others, it is a more secular moment of reflection, of searching for the small good things we can focus on. Often we are just thankful for the food we are about to share, and the ability to share it. Sometimes it’s our health or success, ways that we’ve grown, battles we’ve survived.

This often ends up in the form of a list, and there’s certainly good in that. Sometimes we need to actually say these things out loud or write them down to realize just how long that list can be.

But the one thing everyone has in common when gather together like this is being thankful for the people they’re with. Whether it’s family, friends, or even strangers. The Thanksgiving tradition of a welcoming table and communal meal, of sharing something nourishing with others, is the heart of what Thanksgiving is about.

Sometimes we feel there is very little to be thankful for, when the dark struggles in our lives overwhelm any small joys we may find. But coming together and sharing that burden with other humans, and helping share on the burdens of others, is the rooted heart of thankful giving. Giving of our selves for others, and being thankful for the giving that others have shared.

Thanksgiving is not just a holiday to celebrate bountiful blessings of the harvest. It is a communal moment of mindful attention on what we share as humans, what we each bring to the table as people for the benefit of other people, and what we have all made and grown. It is an opportunity to celebrate being with others, knowing others, and being human together.

There is an old adage of farmers that their job is not growing crops, but tending the soil; that the bounty of the harvest depends on healthy soil full of nutrients and water and an entire ecosystem that supports all that you plant within it.

It’s easy to see ourselves as plants in this metaphor, growing from seeds into healthy stalks that bear flowers and fruit. But I prefer to think that we are the soil. We are each part of the medium of people from which we grow the world. We the people are the soil for ideas, for discovery and invention; we are the medium that can nuture both love and hate, compassion and fear, eagerness and ignorance.

We are connected—sometimes by blood, sometimes by proximity, sometimes just by chance—into one collective layer over the world. We are each part of the soil of humanity, and we each contribute something to feed and nurture that which we hope to harvest, and healthy soil means healthy ideas.

Good farmers know that the bounty on the Thanksgiving table is just part of what we celebrate; that the true blessing is the living soil they tended and cared for all year well enough to produce such a healthy crop.

We are all farmers of the soil even as we are part of the soil. We are connected and growing crops from within us together all year long. Thanksgiving is our opportunity to reflect on what we’ve grown, and to mix and stir the soil we belong to, refreshing ourselves to grow an new healthy bounty of wonders for the world.

Thanksgiving is about people, and I give my thanks for being part of this soil with all of you.

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