Thanksgiving, 2016

I have a complicated relationship with Thanksgiving.

I still cherish its nostalgic memories–family getting together, waiting for the turkey to cook, going out to my grandpa’s mysterious shop where he made beautiful jewelry from gems he and my grandma had ’rock-hounded’ when they were younger. His shop smelled of stone dust and oil and mystery, and was usually noisy. I inherited his favorite rocks when he died, because, apparently, I loved his shop as much as he did. I remember their electric knife, with which they carved the turkey for their kids and their kids’ kids. I remember playing in and out of that house all day, both before & after the meal. Thanksgiving, more than any other holiday for me, was simply about family.

But for me, it was also, as a kid, about inclusiveness–about Pilgrims and Indians feasting together, having a party to celebrate their survival, together, in the face of long odds and unlikely friendships.

My grandma got old after my grandpa died. I moved away, as did a few of my cousins. Thanksgiving became a smaller holiday for me, but still a treasured one. It invoked the ideal of a harvest festival for me–“Let us eat and be merry, for winter is coming, but we are warm and safe and have plenty of food to eat lavishly today, either with family or friends.”

And in here, of course, I had to start questioning the schoolkid narrative. I had to come to terms with the fact that my holiday, celebrating friends and family, celebrating plenty and ’counting blessings’ was sometimes seen as an affront to the relatives of Native Americans whose friendship the holiday purported to celebrate.

The fight over DAPL rages even as I’m writing this. A protesters is likely to lose her arm today after being hit by a concussion grenade. Think about that – American protesters are being treated like enemy combatants. Trump is an investor in the pipeline company. I think we all can guess how this story is likely to play out. The Thanksgiving irony is overwhelming and not at all funny.

The racism that has always plagued our country has been normalized. It’s walking around right in the open now, ‘Heil’ing Trump on videon–complete with salutes, for god’s sake. Swastikas and other hateful graffiti are showing up damned near everywhere. Minorities are being threatened and physically assaulted. In my lifetime, we–as a nation–have never been further from that Thanksgiving ideal of friends from many cultures, sitting down to the same table, together.

There are so many things to feel concern about right now, it feels a little like stamping out sparks in the midst of a forest fire. Conflict of interest? The threatening of journalists? Fraud, both election and monetary? The normalizing of racism?

This year is the first year my parents have lived nearby since I was in high school. We are having them over for a big thanksgiving feast, and then tomorrow we’re going to my husband’s parents’ house for another. So much turkey. So much thanksgiving.

And I am trying. Trying to be mindful and grateful and all of that. On a personal level, I do believe in the power of gratitude. It got me through some very dark, personal times. I’m not sure it’s as useful in the midst of dark cultural times. It might even endanger the cause of right, if people who should be speaking out get too involved with ‘looking for the bright side’.

But for today, at least, I am going to try to give thanks, to salvage a shred of meaning in a very dark time, on what used to be my favorite holiday.

My favorite poem for dark times, “Thanks” by W. S. Merwin feels very appropriate today. Eat some turkey tomorrow if you’re so inclined, but on Friday, let’s get something done. A phone call, a letter, a show of support for someone who’s hurting. Be the change, people. Be the change. And instead of saying grace, I’ll be reading this….

with the night falling we are saying thank you 
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings 
we are running out of the glass rooms 
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky 
and say thank you 
we are standing by the water thanking it 
smiling by the windows looking out 
in our directions 

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging 
after funerals we are saying thank you 
after the news of the dead 
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you 
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators 
remembering wars and the police at the door 
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you 
in the banks we are saying thank you 
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us 
our lost feelings we are saying thank you 
with the forests falling faster than the minutes 
of our lives we are saying thank you 
with the words going out like cells of a brain 
with the cities growing over us 
we are saying thank you faster and faster 
with nobody listening we are saying thank you 
we are saying thank you and waving 
dark though it is