As I prepared for the Thanksgiving holiday this week and the arrival of at least some of our children for a short visit, I found myself in an introspective frame of mind and full of gratitude for my life’s blessings. I suspect it was a reflective moment for many people in the U.S., or at least it’s supposed to be. It’s good to give thanks for copious amounts of food and leisure time, football games and “Black Fridays.” Right?
With just a little different perspective, though, we might recall the basis of earlier Thanksgivings and what was celebrated in those times. The very first one, I have read, was the effort of the earliest immigrants here to celebrate their very survival in those first years, with the Wampanoag Indigenous people, without whose assistance the great migration might have stumbled to a halt. The first immigrants owed much to the first peoples; but in sharing, they all observed their common thanks to whatever Spirit occupied their hearts.
The first immigrants to this country stood upon the shoulders of Indigenous people who had been here for generations. The Europeans were sustained by the Indigenous, learned from them, shared their food and means to survive the new environment. The Native American culture must have seemed other-worldly to the newcomers, but then, the immigrants had deliberately chosen to seek out a new world.
Those early celebrations contained two distinct components, the thanks and the giving. They are pieces of our historical fabric that I’m trying hard to remember in these modern times, when the recognition of our needs for interdependence and stewardship often dims in the shadow of consumerism and self-gratification. For some, shopping has become the new face of gratitude. Thanksgiving Day has become a day of thanks marked by over-consumption of food followed by conspicuous consumption of other “things.” In response, I’ve tried to eat less and think more about my own giving.
Since the dawn of existence, we have lived on a finite planet. That simply means that for every gift, every resource, every blessing that I have received, someone else did not receive it. Wherever I may fall on the human continuum of prosperity, there will be those above me and those below. I need to be thankful for where I am on that continuum, but I never wish to lose sight of those below. I need to remember them because I can, in just the same fashion as I have needed and hoped for the support of those above of me. It’s the way a real Thanksgiving is supposed to work, I think. In giving, there is an implicit need for my thankfulness: thanks for being in a circumstance where I have the ability to give, for recognizing my capacity to do so, and for the self-reformation that comes in the giving. It’s a perspective that is strangely comforting to me, and a view for which I am truly thankful.
There is comfort and confidence in the recognition that I am on this journey of life with many others, rather than facing its uncertainties by myself. And I think that I am not alone in this….