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Kingston, NY, Friday, Nov. 28, 2008

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In Search Of Our Family Thanksgiving
By Judith Gayle | Political Waves

I'D PLANNED on writing about gratitude today, with Thanksgiving upon us; considering the plenty that turns up on our tables this week, it seems ungrateful not to. But then my attention turned toward the Pilgrims. When you have little kids around, as I'm thankful to have this season, construction paper Pilgrim hats come home along with turkeys made of stuffed paper bags, and your mind just goes there.

In my particular case, my earliest ancestors on this continent arrived on the Mayflower. Seven of them embarked but when that first harsh winter was over there were only two, who married, no doubt out of necessity. My grandfather 13 generations removed was John Howland, a young indentured servant and a few years older than Elizabeth Tilley, the family matriarch. John received his freedom, and material reward for his loyalty, when HIS minister and employer, John Carver, died in the first years at Plymouth. The Howland's lived to a ripe old age and produced 88 grandchildren.

I think that's likely to mean I'm related to just about everybody in this hemisphere, at least by marriage. According to the records, I have distant cousins that include Churchill and FDR, as well as -- disturbingly, I might add -- Nixon and the Bushes. They say that the six degrees of separation theory has reduced itself to three degrees in the last few years; think about playing the Kevin Bacon game, only now it's a shorter version. Maybe soon we'll discover that there IS no separation, not a lick of it; that will be a true day of Thanksgiving.

Barack Obama is related to Dick Cheney, on his mother’s side; I wonder which is the most embarrassed by that revelation. Perhaps it would be a more pertinent question to ask who we aren't related to, as opposed to who we are. I think we'd all be very surprised. A few  years ago, when DNA investigation became more available, an African-American professor of black studies, and civil rights activist, submitted his blood for analysis; the results turned his self-perception upside down. He found that his DNA revealed him mostly Northern European with a smidgeon of Asian. His self-definition -- indeed, the premise of his mission in life -- disappeared in a flash. What he had identified as exclusively his was, instead, all of ours; Americans are all a bit of this, a bit of that. It would be enlightening if we all had such a test and broadened our self-awareness.

The Pilgrims -- I think of them as the original boat people -- were a motley crew; partly religious exiles, partly entrepreneurs and opportunists. When I try to put myself in their place, I am left admiring their courage and their trust in the future. They might as well have planned a trip to Mars; they had no idea what tomorrow would bring them. In some ways, we're in similar energy today, all of us. We're reconfiguring the future out of the lessons of the past and the circumstances of the present; we're pushing off into an unknown future. We're a courageous lot, like it or not; pat yourself on the back. Our boat is bigger, but our figurative destination is as intriguingly unknown; the waters we cross, similarly uncharted.

Grandpa John was written into history as the guy who fell off the ship in a huge storm; he grabbed a rope and hung on until he was finally hauled back onto deck. I expect he had a moment of gratitude, right there. That's one perspective worth thanksgiving; solid footing. Grandma probably had another; being on that ship, tossed around like a beanbag on a seemingly endless sea would be different perspective. Finally landing on a shore both beautiful and hostile was a perspective that awaited them, surely a relief but with another set of problems. Life is like that; one shift after another; circumstantial adjustments that redefine the moment of reality.

This morning I had coffee outside, looking up into the California sky; traveling the 1500 or so miles from the Midwest each year is how I refresh my perspective and renew my heart, surrounded by loved ones. In one of those rare Southern California events, rain came yesterday and threatens today. The morning sky was almost white with fast-moving clouds, ragged patches of azure blue peeking through in interesting patterns. If you stare at something long enough, your eyes play tricks; as I watched the heavens, the blue shapes seemed like continents dotting a white sea, shifting and changing. It was like looking at a photographic negative and seeing the picture in a new way; it ran like a time-lapse, moving along quickly, pushing the sky-colored continents together and separating them again.

Our far past was like that, literally. With six, or perhaps only three, degrees of separation, our relationship to one another is like that as well; we're moving quickly, coming together and separating. Touching and moving along. If we have the larger perspective, everything's in its right place. If we're seeing the big picture, there is purpose in our meeting, moving, melting together and pulling apart.

We've found new ways to connect. We've identified the common thread that binds us all together, pulling us forward into the next discovery. Our very humanness is a blessing -- our ability to take a moment into our hearts and feel it so thoroughly it rattles our bones, imprints our brains and opens our souls. So are these extraordinary times that shift us forward into new perspective and new adventures. If we see anew what has always been here, while adjusting our perception of what can be, we can only look out at what's ahead with gratitude.

As I write, the children are squabbling in the other room. Brother and sister, seven and ten; beloved combatants. Some things don't change. I expect Grandma Elizabeth yelled at her share of quarrelsome children. It's perfect, just as it is; it's a major blessing to my senses, my heart, my imagination. When I'm missing the sound of them in March, I'll remember their squeals of indignation in November and smile. I'm very blessed that I can carry that resonance in my heart; never lose it. I'm very blessed to live in a time of growing awareness, so I don't have to lose anything.

We are all blessed; we survived the last eight years, a little the worse for wear but, hopefully, wiser. Many of us are facing challenges that seem dire, yet aren't; for those of us that are truly challenged, we must remember that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. We're all much stronger than we think we are; that's a good thing to remember in tough economic times. Maybe we learn to simplify our lives now; we'll appreciate simplicity when our perspective on clutter changes. The burden of too much is as heavy as that of too little; we might be shocked to discover that less is a blessing and not some great sorrow.

It would be wise and welcome to come to a deeper appreciation of family and friends now, as our ability to juggle all the balls becomes more difficult; perhaps there are some we can consider dropping without all falling to ruin. This is a time to reach out to one another, to help others carry their burden and taking delight in finding that somehow that makes our own lighter. Maybe we'll remember that our DNA would define us all as family, while being friends is a choice, worth making. Perhaps we'll discover that this grand social experiment belongs to all of us, equally.

I found this quote in the cartoon section of the paper today; it's by Thornton Wilder: We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.

Treasure is that thing you value above all else. I wonder what Grandma Elizabeth treasured most; certainly, fresh from the kind of life-altering adventure she'd lived, she had some consciousness of what she'd experienced. This is a good time to remind ourselves that we're adventurers, as well, and look at our lives through Grandma's eyes. She would be amazed at our bounty; she would be stunned by our progress. She would be staggered at our numbers and mystified, I think, by our fears.

All this talk of a financial depression signifies nothing much; if you are lucky enough to have an elder to consult, ask them what the Great Depression was actually like. The social structure in place through that financial emergency was much different than our own. I have no doubt we will be challenged by the times ahead, perhaps severely, but I can't help but think we're so much better equipped to deal with them than were our forbearers. We have safeguards. We have, thankfully, new leadership that puts our well-being much higher on the list than did the last. We've recently found a new spirit of compassion and cooperation, all good to have handy as we come together in difficult times.

And we have gratitude; without which there is no metaphysical give-take; no opening of ourselves to receive more, to share more, to give more. Unless we realize that we are being blessed -- day in, day out -- we will miss the abundance of our experience and live in internal, if not external, poverty. Remember what they said, back in those bad old days? Money can't buy happiness. Ahhh -- but gratitude can.

So, with Thanksgiving behind me this year, I have 364 additional days ahead for gratitude. Today I'm thankful for you, my Planet Waves family. You've all blessed me this year; and in appreciation, I send you this YouTube from Gratefulness.org. Any pondering of our blessings should come with pictures and music; what is cool and dry in mind, is warm and fecund in heart. We need all our senses to appreciate what blessing really means; you can't watch this little clip without a heart-twitch or two.

We are all part of this lovely human family, lifting upward, moving forward; coming together. We are abundantly provided for, as long as we have the consciousness to accept and appreciate the myriad blessings that surround us. That makes this day ... and every day ... a day of thanksgiving. Grandma would be proud.

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