I don’t know what most women do when they’re seven months pregnant, but I ended up cooking a French-themed Thanksgiving dinner for my extended family.
Totally reasonable, right?
I’m not often home for the holidays—and usually in a country that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving—so I guess you could say I was a little enthusiastic this year. Though it included gratin dauphinois and haricots verts rather than the typical Midwestern jello salad, this Thanksgiving was all-American to me: no fighting to find ingredients, no Skype calls, no expat friends standing in for flesh-and-blood family.
It was the perfect American holiday.
Yet, I have to admit, my favorite Thanksgiving story is far from this American perfection. My best Thanksgiving happened in a bar in the Himalayas.
At the time, I was researching Tibetan poetry in northern India, equipped with only a few bucket-washed outfits and a notebook. For lack of a proper kitchen or any of the traditional ingredients, my housemates and I gathered at a local bar to celebrate Thanksgiving. I remember that they had pizza, tikka masala, and Kingfisher beer. Apparently, both Pierce Brosnan and the Dalai Lama had been there.
Everything about it was weird. Yet, I remember being incredibly thankful.
I was thankful for good pizza—hard to come by in rural India. I was thankful for each one of my few possessions, which seemed entirely enough. I was thankful for the opportunity to be out exploring the world. Most of all, I was thankful for the way God had arranged everything in my life—my nationality, personality, economic status, and era—to bring me to that moment.
Surrounded by actually-from-India Indians and Buddhist pilgrims, it was the first Thanksgiving I truly saw my American privilege. As I interviewed refugees and activists, I realized how much power my U.S. passport afforded me. I realized how much my country’s political and economic stability contributed to my personal success. I realized how little I had to worry about violence, corruption, and disenfranchisement compared to the rest of the world.
Northern India is not a particularly comfortable place. The air is cold and thin, and the living conditions are spare. But on that Thanksgiving, I knew I could leave. My passport and bank account gave me endless options. They set me apart, made me privileged.
We’re conditioned in the West to think of privileged as a synonym for spoiled. We’d rather ignore our privilege than admit that the word describes us. But in doing so, we’re snubbing the good with the bad. Yes, privilege comes undeserved, and yes, it can produce feelings of entitlement, but it can also be a source of power and agency in a needy world. Coupled with gratitude and humility, privilege can do a lot of good. Used wisely, it can create options and a hand-up for those around us. Laid down, it can create a more equal world.
Years after that Himalayan Thanksgiving, I am still so grateful to be privileged. I have no idea why God decided to put me of all people in this position, but he did, and I’m trying my best not to waste such a precious gift.
I begin with gratitude—humble acceptance and thankfulness for what I do not deserve—and go from there.