Thanksgiving (A Partial Take) by Hal O’Leary

Thanksgiving (A Partial Take) by Hal O’Leary

Thanksgiving (A Partial Take) by Hal O’Leary. Today, on the weekly section Just Hal on Yareah magazine. Enjoy your Saturday!


Thanksgiving turkey illustration. Photo by K Whiteford

While having lunch with the love of my life, discussion turned to the upcoming annual celebration of Thanksgiving, but unlike most, the conversation took a philosophical turn from the usual banter about food to the question of just whom or what, if any, we should thank for our bounty, assuming that there is indeed bounty to be thankful for. Since our Thanksgiving, like so many other commemorations throughout the world and human history, is a celebration of a bountiful harvest, the question of gratitude arose. The name Thanksgiving implies that thanks should be given to someone or something, but then, we must ask to whom or what such thanks should be given. If we accept the usual answer of God, this same harvest is celebrated by peoples with many different gods. Does such an idea mean that some of the gods may not be deserving of our gratitude? Then what of those with no god at all? To whom or what should they show gratitude? This led to a philosophical question of gratitude itself.

Can one be grateful for good fortune without attributing it to an external causal agent? To this, I answer yes. To this, I answer that a bountiful harvest is my reward for the tremendous effort and time spent in the plowing and sowing. The idea that someone or something with no dog in the fight might be responsible for whatever befalls me is to make of me a fatalist. Such an argument, I should think, makes any idea of free will absurd. We simply cannot have it both ways. Were we to relinquish credit or responsibility for our accomplishments to something other than ourselves, would not our heroes of history be little more than frauds, little more than instruments in the hands of an unknown? It is my conviction that any gratitude one might have to any external higher power, if there be such, should be for nothing other than one’s existence as an agent of one’s own fate.

Of course, relegating the discussion of Thanksgiving to a philosophical question makes it impossible to ignore another aspect of the question. We must ask what it is that we should be grateful for in those years of flood or drought when there might be little or no harvest. What should we be grateful for when all our effort and time spent in plowing and sowing has gone for naught? In such an event, it has been my experience in a rather long and eventful life that a positive human nature will search until a blessing, if for nothing other than simply one’s existence, can be found. I can’t help but recall the great curtain call from John Millington Synge’s play “Riders to the Sea” in which Maurya, a devout mother who has just lost her last remaining son to the sea, quietly observes, “We must be satisfied.” Ironically, we seem unable to allow ourselves even a thought of blaming whomever or whatever we may have thanked in previous years of plenty or good fortune, for deprivation or misfortune. Not only might we likely and unreasonably hold ourselves responsible, but we will often, at least on the part of the most faithful, attribute our setback as punishment for some offense we must have committed against what would, in good times, have been considered our savior or benefactor.

To those faithful who, because of strong religious obedience, may take offense to some of my opinions, I would simply ask for the tolerance I extend to their beliefs. In this respect, with so many different beliefs, aren’t we all playing a sort of Russian roulette with our fates? While there are, no doubt, some who find such thoughts disturbing and a threat to the peace of mind they find in adherence to belief, I delight in the challenge of constantly searching for truth and understanding. In my own case, having devoted my life to the theatre, I find that the challenge for me has been best met with my contention that it is only through the arts that we are afforded an occasional glimpse into the otherwise incomprehensible. For this blessing, I will be eternally grateful. My thanks, on this and every Thanksgiving, will be reserved simply for that which is yet to be discovered. In justification, I submit the following:


For man to figure out just why he’s here.

It’s been a task for man since time began.

It is a cloudy question, to be clear,

Ignored by both the Bible and Qur’an.


It’s been a task for man, since time began,

To justify the fact that he exists,

Ignored by both the Bible and Qur’an

This ever haunting, daunting task persists


To justify the fact that he exists,

And finding nothing in the holy script,

This ever haunting, daunting task persists.

He’s faced with that for which he’s ill-equipped.


And finding nothing in the holy script

Since, clueless, he is limited, you see,

He’s faced with that for which he’s ill-equipped.

What is the only answer there can be?


Since, clueless, he is limited, you see,

It is a cloudy question, to be clear

What is the only answer there can be?

For man to figure out just why he’s here.

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Hal O’Leary is an eighty-seven-year-old Secular Humanist who believes that it is only through the arts that one is afforded an occasional glimpse into the otherwise incomprehensible. He has been awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from West Liberty University.

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