Why Thanksgiving: A Small Meditation on Myths & Gratitude

thanksgiving-mother-and-son-peeling-potatoes
 

 

Thanksgiving day a year or two ago I made an “emergency” run to the grocery store.  Standing near an entrance, but not too near, was a youngish looking woman with two small children.

She was holding up a sign asking for money to feed her children. It was heart breaking. (And yes, I know some people think there are alternatives to begging in this country. It’s complicated. And, it isn’t as easy as some who are comfortable seem to think.) Being past lucky in the incarnation lottery and not inclined to find excuses to not give money to beggars, I gave her some money. Not a lot, but more than the one or two bucks I try to keep in my pocket for panhandlers.

After collecting up whatever it was that I needed, I got in my car and drove home. Feeling mixed feelings. And thinking about Thanksgiving.

So many feelings to feel. Me, I find it past unfortunate our American holiday is attached to the Pilgrim and Indian story with its ugly subtext for anyone who stops for a moment and thinks about it.

And doubly unfortunate because a communal time for giving thanks is a deep visceral thing. I have a few friends who think there shouldn’t have to be days set aside to celebrate things like gratitude. But they’re wrong. Such things are about as old as our humanity. Certainly this particular seasonal celebration of gratitude is at least as old as agriculture.

But with bounty to be grateful for other things inevitably come along for the ride. Like guilt. I have no illusions that I’ve got it better than most, and I know that while, yes, I’ve worked hard, the truth is most of the deal turns on dumb luck, on winning that lottery. And other things throw themselves into the mix. I find myself bewildered by the idea of people celebrating Thanksgiving by lining up in front of megastores for deep discounts. Although I guess it reveals the greed part of the deal.

And. I think of that woman with two children begging in order to feed her children. In this country, which I still somewhere deep down in the darkest recesses of my heart feel should be better than that. A lot better than that. And then it isn’t that hard to think about the rest of this world, and the hurt and hunger.

And. So. Yes. I think about Thanksgiving.

The world is broken and at the same time there is some miracle in being alive. When we retired we moved to the Los Angeles area to be near family. The sun was just a bonus. We gather with people just to be together and to be grateful, to be thankful. As messy as that can be, and of course, its going to be messy. Its all so mixed up. Life and death and that thing in between. Messy. Messy.

In the great mix, amongst the uncertainty of life, I find myself thinking of that silly Passover song with the refrain going something like “they tried to kill us, we’re alive, let’s eat.” Pretty much all humans could sing that song.

And a little acknowledging how lucky we are for what we have; what a seasoning for a meal.

And there’s that woman and her children. A few bucks helped today. She needs more. And she’s not alone in this need and the fragility of it all.

Which makes me think rather than the Pilgrim and Indian story, as we cast about for something, there’s little better than the dream of Exodus. Totally a-historical as best I can tell. Archetypal villains with the Egyptians, and then a great escape. All celebrated at a meal. Yes, there are problems. The wrong month, for one. This really is, to my heart, best tied to harvest.

But, the bottom line part of it, that “they tried to kill us,” the reality of life, always at the edge, “We survived” we are here, we are breathing, and if we are lucky, we’re with people we love, and then that big thing, “Let’s eat!” one of the great joys of human life.

The deep myth calling to us. The story of existence. And our place within it.

Thanksgiving.

Passover.

The great mix up. A little laughter. Some tears.

The great noticing. They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.

Thanksgiving.

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