There are people who seem to be intent on making virtually every tradition that we enjoy political, including the Thanksgiving holiday. Some even refer to it as a day of mourning rather than a way of showing gratitude, because to them it represents a time when land was taken from the indigenous people who originally roamed freely across North America. I suppose that they have a point, but I believe that this day should be honored as a way of focusing on bringing family and friends together in a spirit of gratitude for the blessings that we have enjoyed instead of decrying the injuries and insults inflicted on us and on previous generations. The truth is that if we keep going back far enough in history we find violence, subjugation, theft of property and egregious acts in virtually every society. A quick review of today’s world events reveals evidence that as people we humans still have work to do. While there is nothing wrong with admitting that we have erred in the past, there is something a bit sick about continually beating ourselves up over things that we did not do and cannot change. Our only recourse is to learn from the mistakes of history and move forward with a more inclusive determination to live in a world as just as possible. To turn our backs on the very healthy idea of being grateful for any and all good that we have experienced is to lose the spirit of a celebration whose intent was to inspire the very hope that we most need.
We humans used to wander from one place to another searching for food and warmth. We had little need for ownership of land. It was a free range world for the most part because there weren’t that many of us. From time to time our ancestors clashed and we have the evidence of skulls cracked by manmade implements to prove that even then we didn’t always get along so well. Once we quit following herds and found a way to settle down and grow crops the idea of the survival of the fittest really kicked into place. We had not yet thought of the concept of contracts and deeds to prove ownership, but that would eventually come and as populations grew there were those who rose to power and took advantage of their positions to accumulate wealth. The social strata has almost always included haves and have nots. Even the most communal groups appear to have individuals running things and possessing just a bit more than everyone else. Over time there were land grabs taking place all over planet earth, with fighting and enslavement sometimes occurring even among and between indigenous tribes.
When the New World was discovered it appeared for all intents and purposes to be a land of opportunity and resources. Princes and potentates all over Europe made claims and sent adventurous citizens to help stake out ownership. More often than not the people who agreed to relocate to uncharted territory were those who had little reason to hope for good lives in the places where they were born. They tended to be poor and were often persecuted for their religious beliefs. The truth was that they were often considered to be the “riff raff” and encouraging them to colonize the newly claimed land was a convenient way to be rid of them while increasing the power of the monarchies and governments in Europe. We often forget this inconvenient truth whenever we consider the history that ultimately lead to the making of the United States of America. We rarely hold Spain or Portugal responsible for the scourge of slavery in the New World and yet it was their big idea and they imported it to most of South America in an even bigger way than its reach in the north.
The original pilgrims who came to Plymouth were a hated and motley crew back in Europe. Their religion was despised and even illegal, so they had moved from place to place back home hoping to find a sense of peace that had long evaded them. The idea of coming to the New World was one of desperation that wasn’t as well thought out as needed. They were unable to scrounge up a full complement of like minded souls willing to leave all that they had known behind, so they enlisted a few families who were running from the law. As they crossed the Atlantic the leader of their group realized that they had to create a compact that would bring a bit of order to the excursion. Sadly the entire plan appeared to be doomed by brutal weather and disease. By the time that the survivors of the trip had begun the task of settling on the land more than half of their fellow travelers had died. It seemed as though they had fled from one inhospitable place to another that was even more frightening. In desperation they formed an alliance with a group of native people who were warring with other tribes intent on taking their land. For all intents and purposes it must have appeared to be a free for all to the Europeans, but at least for the time being they were able to practice their religion and escape punishments.
We all know the rest of the story and realize that the imperfections of those who came to this land were as varied and profuse as they are today. Mankind has yet to figure out how best to live in harmony, and so there are tensions between people all over the world. We Americans have made many efforts to be a more democratic society, and for the most part immigrants still arrive at our shores hoping to build better lives. My maternal grandparents came only a little over a hundred years ago in search of opportunities that never would have been afforded them in the place in which they were born. They and their children were frequently treated badly and they struggled to make it, but they indeed found the comfort that they sought. Many generations later their descendants are success stories in the country that made it possible. Our family has much for which to be unendingly grateful. To focus instead on the injustices that befell our grandparents and parents would be to miss the very point of why we are here today. Our grandfather understood that if he had stayed in the town of his birth we would have been dominated by governments intent on assigning him to a life of poverty in which his freedoms would have been seriously curtailed. He was willing to endure the difficulties and imperfections of the United States because he realized that here there was hope for our futures. He loved this country with all of his being and taught his children to have the same devotion. He had seen firsthand what it was like to be in a less inclusive place. In spite of the flaws, he believed that America was still a great place to be.
So on this day I am thankful to be here. I feel gratitude for the education that I was given. I appreciate the freedoms that I have. I am blessed in knowing that I may work to create changes that will make our land an even better place. I appreciate the tremendous diversity that brings together people from all over the world. Like any person or family our country is imperfect, but we continue to strive toward a more perfect union of souls. Today I am looking not at the bad, but considering the good. In that regard my world is bountiful. I know that evil doers still exist, but they are far outnumbered by decent and kind individuals. I have faith that our nation will continue to evolve and become a kinder gentler place. We have work to do, but what we have accomplished so far is a testament to the ascent of mankind. Today I praise God for the mere fact that I am still here with the opportunity to be even better tomorrow than I was yesterday.