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Thankfulness, Sorrow and Complexity

November 24, 2020

Growing up, my family was not too big on celebrations. Most holidays came and went with minimal acknowledgement. For some unknown reason, I was always most enthusiastic about Thanksgiving. There was something spontaneously resonant and even thrilling about thankfulness that arose in my young heart.

Although the kindhearted stories about the Pilgrims and the Native Americans, called Indians back then, were touching, these were not of real importance to me. I just loved that there was a day when everybody celebrated being grateful. I remember feeling joyful and hopeful with a childish sense of everybody caring for everyone else.

I now live a few miles from where the first Pilgrims landed in the U.S. in 1620. With more historically accurate information, it is now clear that the feel-good stories about the interactions between the natives and the Pilgrims are largely untrue. It is historically accurate that the local Wampanoag people and the Pilgrims enjoyed a peaceful co-existence, sometimes helping each other, mostly through trade. The Wampanoag even taught the newcomers how to plant corn, fish these potent waters and other essentials for survival.

Within a few years, however, the relationship was less harmonious. Throughout the region there were various, often warring tribes. In a way, the Pilgrims were a new, different sort of tribe added to that mix, creating greater complexity and exacerbating rivalries. The tribes did not trust each other and often placed tribal self-interest above the collective. Needless to say, as we see in the world today, there are great challenges when human beings of differing backgrounds interconnect. Human Beings are complex...

I think of the Pilgrims as brave "refugees". It took great courage to embark on the harrowing two-month journey across the Atlantic Ocean, putting their bodies on the line for a new life. How noble their quest for religious freedom and independence from a king! Is their impulse different from refugees today? Can we simultaneously value their noble intention and also see that the new arrivals and their descendants eventually treated the natives inhumanely, sometimes leading to genocide for many tribes? Human Beings are complex...

I am imagining myself on both sides of the situation. As a native, would I welcome these strange looking people that we called "long-coats"? As a Pilgrim, would my desire to protect my family and establish a new home, lead me to "othering" these non-Christians, even calling them savages? I don't know. I am heartened by the numerous, authentic examples of mutual care and respect between the peoples that arise in an objective reading of the history. Still the outcome for the natives has been horrific. Human Beings are complex...

The world is not so different today; we are divided into actual or mental tribes. In some ways, we seem more divided then ever, with great justifications for our own tribalism. Amazingly, we sometimes look past our differences and celebrate a larger gratitude for the life we have been given, including its gifts and sorrows. It is challenging to tolerate the dissonance between our worst/best selves and those of others, while seeing that fundamentally, we all have the same needs: safety, security, respect, meaning and love. Human Beings are complex...

I still love this day for the gift of gratitude that it celebrates. We can experience gratitude for gratitude itself, as we choose to focus on our many gifts. We can see the best in each other, as we temporarily background our differences without abandoning our intolerance of oppression. This is a heart opening choice. For one day, we can remember all that connects us.

What largess it takes to include both our Gratitude and Sorrow as we bear witness to the great gift of life itself. Being human is complex...

Happy Thanksgiving!

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