Thanksgiving has always been a very special holiday for me. Somewhere tucked away is a paper which carries me back all the way back to William, the preacher, the rungs of the ladder with his children Love and Fear, his grand and great grand and great-great grand to me and beyond, where my own children’s lineage veers off across the seas, their genetic feast a fitting rest on the path of those who sought a new life, their names and rich paternal heritage a lovely respite from the black and white linearity on that paper. We are all pilgrims, in a way.
At one time we’ve all adopted the small feel-good rituals of giving thanks, writing down on paper or in our minds the things we are grateful for, most of which often circle around and end with the self. “I” am thankful for “my” is the way these normally begin, and more often than not they involve the relief that we are not like the others, that we are the haves, not the have nots. Somehow we can only see our own good fortune when contrasted with the bad fortune of others, can only appreciate a sunny day when we’ve known the clouds.
On that first Thanksgiving nearly four-hundred years ago the Pilgrims and the Pokanokets, in the words of Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower, “did not spend the day sitting around a long table draped with a white linen cloth, clasping each other’s hands in prayer as a few Indians looked on. […] the First Thanksgiving soon became an overwhelmingly Native celebration when Massasoit and a hundred Pokanokets (more than twice the entire English population of Plymouth) arrived at the settlement with five freshly killed deer. […] …most of the celebrants stood, squatted, or sat on the ground as they clustered around outdoor fires, where the deer and birds turned on wooden spits.”
More importantly, as Philbrick goes on to describe, the situation of the world in 1620, of their world at that time, was far from “a paradise of abundance and peace,” yet while what separated these two peoples was significant, what united them was equally so, “the mutual challenge of survival dominated all other concerns, the two peoples had more in common than is generally appreciated today.”
At least for this moment I’d like to go back to that time, to the purity of what united rather than what divided. What unites is always the most fundamental, the most human, that which we all share, all of us, something I am hopeful that those who grow up in a global rather than an insular world will see, time and time again, and will know to be truer than all other truths.
Angelina Jolie recently accepted a humanitarian award, offering an incredibly humble and moving speech, which I’d like to link to here, and offer an excerpt of as closing for this thanksgiving post. It puts words to my gratitude, my overwhelming gratitude, one no doubt blanketed with questions about why I am here and they are there and why I am so very fortunate and they are not. In her words…
I have never understood why some people are lucky enough to be born with the chance that I had, to have this path in life and why, across the world, there’s a woman just like me, with the same abilities, and the same desires, the same work ethic and love for her family […] only she sits in a refugee camp, and she has no voice. She worries about what her children will eat, how to keep them safe, and if they’ll ever be allowed to return home. I don’t know why this is my life, and that’s hers.
Tomorrow I will relish my time with family and friends, the abundance of our good fortune, my gratitude endless. But I will spread my table with the knowledge that my bounty should not be mine alone, that what unites us is stronger than what divides, and that there should be room for all.