Thursday, November 23, 2006

A Curmudgeon's Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is a strange national holiday. It is inextricably linked with Native Americans, without whose help the colony at Plymouth, MA could not have survived. Most Americans learn that essential fact in elementary school, but it's clear that Native Americans are not the focus of this day. Unless the Washington Redskins play, very few folks will even give pause to recognize the contributions of this continent's indigenous peoples. Most likely the credit (if attributed at all) will go to God. It's God's divine grace... not the contributions of heathen primitives...from which people will derive a deeper meaning. In fact, the third day of Thanksgiving (proclaimed in 1676) didn't include the participation of the Indians. It was instead a celebration to mark the colonists' victory over the natives of the area. It's enlightening to examine what people give thanks for.

At best, Thanksgiving is a time for loved ones to gather and enjoy one another's company. While cynical, I certainly want to recognize the best inclinations of my fellow citizens. Indeed there will be a select few that give part of their day to serving the downtrodden their annual hot meal. But the activities of the many will continue to perplex me. Some will sit down today and give thanks to the American troops, who sacrifice their lives for world hegemony. Many will look forward to a bounteous feast, that they will gorge themselves on until they must sleep or puke. If nothing else, many will recognize the abundance with which the nation provides its citizens a sense of self-worth. Yet others will drink themselves into a stupor in a vain attempt not to talk with their families. Traditions, of course, are varied and complex.

I can't lay claim to any expecially noble inclinations myself. I have spent exactly one Thanksgiving doling out food to the homeless. While I make an effort to analyze the gratitude I owe for all the good things in my life, I often fall into abstraction when I contemplate to whom I should direct my thanks. Often my conclusion is that I am surrounded by a group of very special people that contribute to making my life worth living. Yet I fall short of forming any specific list for fear that someone will be unfairly forsaken. This in itself is something to be ultimately thankful for.

While surrounded by the people one cares for, it is easy to forget those who are isolated... and have no one with which to spend their holidays. I have adopted a peculiarly personal tradition to remind myself that there are many who will spend Thanksgiving alone. They are society's orphans, unseen by those surrounded by the warmth of their personal relations. Every year I make the effort to get in my car alone and drive around the city, searching for the few business establishments that remain open. In these waystations rest the solitary figures that we rarely notice. They have neither family nor friends to join in their observation of the holiday. Perhaps it is by choice, but for some it is surely the result of circumstance. Through some desire to connect with others they have chosen to be around strangers. I sit down in these places and try to empathize with their experience. I don't fool myself into believing I can truly feel their plight. But somehow I think that it does me some good, even in the role of mere witness.

It's too easy to become self-absorbed and neglectful of those we care for. All too often I go through life without the recognition that I am accompanied on my journey by fellow travellers- without whose company I would be surely lost- just like the Pilgrims would have been without the assistance of the Native Americans. It may be too that I walk with others I don't stop to recognize. We are indelibly affected by others that exist on our periphery... assisted in ways that we are unaware of. Perhaps that insight can keep me from losing a wider perspective and insulating myself in my own specific desires and concerns. It is to that end that I seek to make my ritualized observation on this day of thanks.


Anonymous jefg said...

Somewhat off topic, I recently heard that Thanksgiving was not a recognized national holiday until so declared by President Lincoln. I wonder what his motivation was for doing so?

Anyway, doing something regardless of the scope for someone in less fortunate circumstances on Thanksgiving is a wonderful contribution. And no, it doesn't have to be monetary. Geez, perhaps the Congress could have reconvened just for the day to increase the minimum wage.

Please pass the gravy.

2:04 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


It seems to me that Lincoln meant it as a virtual pick-me-up in the midst of the brutal conditions of the Civil War.

4:22 PM  
Blogger marseye said...

Your insight,education and seeming
compassion for this day,reminds me
how as a culture "set a system up" to exclude so many............and give one day a title and priority for a gross amount of everything for so few. I personally have been
alone for more than one thanksgiving day with nothing much to eat and no call, no phone.....
and the streets and stores and even empty parking lots, looking through tears and choices that lead me to solitude, and because of
my pity to shy to be with any stranger or find those less fortunate than myself, to camoflage my saddness. Is this because of our ways of creating this life of titles and circumstances making "thanksgiving day" so ordinary a tradition separating fact from fiction?
When every day is to be a thanksgiving oportunity and community effort for every living thing.

being in one place long enough now to recieve a welcome and a phone to hear them.
I thank all those who have shared with me a smile and a loving word or two...........and the feeling that you have touched anothers heart like I have been so touched
and endeard.
Still left wanting, like a true american,..........................
one day a president who will share the bounty of this land to all, everyday so that the strife of life may lesson and the right of blessin be enouph to enjoy all time with humanity, and family.
Thankyou merge divide, always food for thought!

8:48 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


I love that you reference my "seeming compassion". It's a slightly non-commital qualifier.

I think we are somehow blessed if we can take the time to view life as something to be thankful for. For so many, it would be a folly.

I'd love to see a president like you describe, but looking at the 2008 candidate field... eh... I'm not optimistic.

9:59 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home