Another Thanksgiving has come and gone. The leftovers have been doled out to company and casseroles washed and put away. The dogs got their annual treats and we gorged on an extra helping of stuffing and a second slice of pie. Our lives are marked by these cultural traditions. In America Thanksgiving is our premier holiday for families. It’s a time when children and in-laws get plane tickets and take time off from work to gather at the family home. We shop carefully for special items and construct a dinner meant for double the number of guests. Because you never know if an additional guest or two may need a seat at the table.
Have we lost the point in this celebration of excess?
I like to say a few words before we lift our forks. It’s a gentle reminder of our good fortune in being together and having this wonderful meal to share. This has been a tough year. Larry was out of the country for most of the spring and summer. During that time I was in a car accident. Our lab suffered through a myriad of health issues related to our (former) vet missing obvious symptoms, and our oldest daughter labored away at a graduate degree and the stress of job hunting. We lived our lives and paid our bills like so many others. Our friends may have had better luck than us, or worse, or just different, but in the end, our lives went on. We faced each challenge with as much fortitude as we could muster. We worked, we loved, and we moved on to another year.
In this, our first Thanksgiving in our home in southeastern Pennsylvania I wanted to take a pause and reflect on the meaning and message of the holiday. The first Thanksgiving was a celebration of friendship and community. In this great American legend, two disparate peoples who had conflicting interests, one of which was an interloper, came together to share a meal. The end of the story was not as idyllic, as future generations of the first American immigrants did their best to destroy Native American cultures and peoples. But for a brief slice of history, relations were friendly enough for them to coexist. Ironically, one of the lead stories on the news today is about Sioux tribes fighting for their water rights against the Dakota Access Pipeline project. They spent their Thanksgiving holiday protesting and trying to gain the attention of a populace that has their sights focused elsewhere.
Before I fall into a morass of nostalgia, or maybe a food induced coma, I want to remind everyone that in every story there is another one waiting to be told. Thanksgiving is about so much more than eating ourselves into oblivion. It was conceived as the celebration of a successful harvest and to give thanks for the safety and good health of our children and families. The first Thanksgiving has been mythologized into a the turkey and cranberry sauce story that is barely recognizable from its original form.
I challenge you to look below the surface, ask the hard questions, and read between the lines. Around the table are stories of joy and pain. Your cousin’s new boyfriend, and your mother’s illness. All around us are people in need, be they family or friends or neighbors. The Thanksgiving table, heavy with food too much for us to eat, masks pain felt outside our family walls. So maybe in the coming year instead of cooking and shopping and putting food on the table I’ll look around and see if other families have their slice of the American pie.