GOBBLE, GOBBLE. (You did, didn't you?) Yes, it's that time again -- Thanksgiving -- and you're probably still basking in the discomforting glow of too much food and detoxing from an overwhelming blast of family interaction.
If, like me, you got stuck having to bring a pedestrian and uninteresting crunch-topped pan of green bean casserole to the family table, blame it on the retro Mars in Cancer which will always speak for the "old days" and insist on family traditions, in spite of the fact that green beans, like candied yams, will only get a marginal tasting with so many other sumptuous offerings available. Most of my assigned dish was given its obligatory due, but I also made cranberry-pineapple cheesecake pies,* to take some personal pleasure in my contribution.
While many of our national holidays have lost their punch, and we celebrate them without understanding either their history or purpose, Thanksgiving manages to retain some bit of its original essence. It marks that period when a small band of religious refugees and adventurers, facing a second winter in the wilderness, found enough remaining among their depleted number to have a sit-down dinner. So in their honor, we do it too, every year, without fail.
Do we get carried away? Yep. Do we stuff ourselves until coma looms? Sure. Do we consume mindlessly? Of course. But only a fool would fail to show some gratitude at a day so personally indulgent, bittersweet with the possibilities of family fuzzies and conflicts served over a fat slice of pumpkin pie.
The first Thanksgiving had little in common with our current iteration of it. When I think back on what that first event must have been, all the gloss and nostalgia of our national mythology falls away. Of my seven ancestors that came to this country on the uncomfortably small and ill prepared Mayflower, only two survived to partake in that first celebratory meal. Most of those early settlers must have been depressed, frightened, and anguished that another harsh winter might take them all, yet grateful that their hard-earned harvest provided them at least a fighting chance to make it to another spring. Consider this quote from H. U. Westermayer:
The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving.
That their Puritan values compelled them to show their gratitude provided them metaphysical gold, I think. The Puritans were more severe in their later formalized years, but at first they simply walked by faith. They felt they were in conversation with God and that He would inform them if they displeased Him. It took a lot of guts to both defy the religious thought of the day and the governments that insisted on it, so in that small portion of American history, change and growth was seeding itself, bit by bit.
The event itself took place before the push toward conquest of the indigenous peoples of this continent, so there is a kind of hushed moment of possibility in the meeting of two races, two cultures, two peoples willing to welcome the other. The Pilgrims hadn't become corporate masters and resource manipulators yet -- what eventually happened does not have to intrude upon and spoil the memory of the improbably fragile moment we celebrate each November.
In fact, the two groups, European and American, had much in common -- they were facing nature with only primitive resources, they were fiercely tribal, and they both understood the concept of gratitude. The American Indians who participated in that first little block party also understood the enriching dynamics of thanksgiving -- they considered every moment a prayer of respect and thanks to their Great Spirit, and Its collaboration in the entirety of their lives and affairs.
I won't speak here about what happened next in American history. It didn't turn out well for the indigenous peoples, but that is a cautionary tale about humankind rather than a condemnation of one group or another. Might as well mourn the demise of Camelot -- or the results of the 2000 election. Another quote, this one by Frederick Turner, explains it best:
To those who followed Columbus and Cortez, the New World truly seemed incredible because of the natural endowments. The land often announced itself with a heavy scent miles out into the ocean. Giovanni di Verrazano in 1524 smelled the cedars of the East Coast a hundred leagues out. The men of Henry Hudson's Half Moon were temporarily disarmed by the fragrance of the New Jersey shore, while ships running farther up the coast occasionally swam through large beds of floating flowers. Wherever they came inland they found a rich riot of color and sound, of game and luxuriant vegetation. Had they been other than they were, they might have written a new mythology here. As it was, they took inventory.
You know -- take paradise, put up a parking lot. In its defense, my own bloodline went native within a generation or two, marrying into the Mohawk tribe. My favorite relative, a character by the name of "Slipshod" John Sherwood, spent his years avoiding the newly cultivated population centers and scouting the vast Northeastern forests for the British in the French and Indian Wars.
Little of what Puritanism eventually became impresses me, especially after our experience these past few years of politics influenced by fundamentalism, but in at least this one story -- the Thanksgiving story -- very few people can argue with the metaphysics of gratitude. Thanksgiving is, as a friend recently reminded me, a verb. Gratitude is also, or so said Marcus Tullius Cicero, an ancient Roman statesman of whom I am fond, "... not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others." If we can find and express an attitude of gratitude in our life, we are "teachable"...and self-reflection will follow; if we can't, we're stuck in victim mode and unable to recognize blessings that bombard us on a daily basis. Gratitude makes way for more, while an inability to show thankfulness dries up the well from which good flows.
Even in times as difficult and unsettling as these, we have much to be grateful for in this nation, and from that reservoir of gratitude, great things can begin. Jupiter has gone direct in Sagittarius now, making its way toward a great gaseous visit with Pluto. (Talk about your Dance of Titans, and all against the backdrop of the mysterious Galactic Core.) If ever we needed to open our minds and hearts to gratitude and receive blessing and opportunity, it's now.
And speaking of opportunity, my interest is piqued by the advent of a spectacular planetary display called Comet Holmes. One of the mystical astrologers
I favor made an interesting connection between the Hopi Prophecy and the amazing -- let me repeat, AMAZING -- Comet Holmes, pictures of which are available here
I saw this startling phenomenon in the sky the other night, blinking several times to make sure I was seeing correctly.
Comets, we are told, bring great change and usher in new eras -- this comet arrived quite unexpectedly and continues to baffle and fascinate. Perhaps it's just one more sign that the changes we have long anticipated are here. Maybe we're all getting ready to push off in our own little ship of consciousness, a new adventure at hand, a grand experiment ahead. Perhaps if we keep our hearts open and our gratitude accessible, it will not be so difficult as we imagine -- perhaps one day we'll celebrate this moment of turmoil and change, gathered together in thanksgiving...and counting our blessings.
If you would like to explore the dynamics of gratitude (the practice of which will make you, at minimum, a happier person and more cheerful to be around) you can find information here
or Google for many informative links.
* You'll find my pie recipe in Huffington Post's Top Ten Thanksgiving Recipes,
entry number 9. Rather than use canned sauce, I bake a bag of cranberries [375, 30 min] with a jar of orange marmalade, and add a small can of well-drained crushed pineapple to the finished filling.
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