Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

    Thanksgiving brings up a lot of different things for different people.  I've always  loved and I guess romanticized the Thanksgiving holiday a little bit.  I know there are arguments about how the history of it is taught in school and of what really happened.   For me, Thanksgiving was a time to spend time in the kitchen around generations of women in my family.  Having them share recipes passed down and loved by people they loved.  Hearing stories about family members I never had the opportunity to know any other way while learning to make desserts, homemade rolls, and casseroles. I may not miss the tension from having "too many cooks in the kitchen," but I do miss the rest of it.  My family has become much, much smaller in the past few years, and now Thanksgiving consists of invitations from friends to dinner (which I must say is so very welcome) or having dinner at a restaurant with a handful of family members.  It really isn't the same, but I am grateful.  Thanksgiving for me now, I suppose, is more a time to really bring into focus what I have to be thankful about in this moment, this time in my life.
    This year has been a year of change, and loss.   I have gained perspective and realized things about myself that I had not before, both good and bad, and lost some things precious to me.  In the job club that I go to on Tuesdays, the wonderful woman that teaches the classes read us the following as a Thanksgiving gift, and to remind us all to be hopeful.  The story may not be accurate, but it was inspiring, so I thought I'd share it.   Happy Thanksgiving!

 "Thanks-giving" (Davidson Loehr)

Thanksgiving is a holiday especially for people who have lost a lot and need to know how to go on. If everything in your life is just swell, and it has been just swell for as far back as you want to remember, Thanksgiving will just be another swell day, with turkey.

But if you have lost something this year, you need to lay claim to this holiday, because it is for you. I mean hard, painful losses: a parent, a partner, a child, a beloved friend or relative, even a pet you loved. Or a more abstract pain: a loss of innocence, outgrowing a faith too small to cherish you without yet knowing how to replace it. Or the loss of a job, or the loss of confidence, optimism and hope.

It was so long ago, that first Thanksgiving, it's hard to imagine it could still be such a big thing. It took place 382 years ago. Bach wouldn't be born for 64 more years. The founders of the United States - Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton, Washington - wouldn't be born for another century or more. The United States itself wouldn't exist for another 155 years. Charles Darwin was 200 years in the future, and the new world he would help establish wasn't even imaginable back in 1621 at the first Thanksgiving.

But one of the most enduring and life-affirming stories in our history was being lived out back then, in real time.

The year before, 102 Pilgrims had left to make their way to the New World. They started out in two ships, but one wasn't seaworthy, so they came over in just the one ship, the Mayflower. They left on September 6th; the trip took 66 days, they arrived on November 11, 1620.

They were greeted, after a harrowing trip across the Atlantic, by a brutal and deadly Massachusettes winter. Of the one hundred and two who left to come here; by the following summer, only 55 were left alive. Nearly half of them died.

Imagine this! 102 people leave their homes, say farewell to families and friends, say goodbye to a whole way of life, a whole world. They arrive as strangers in a strange land, and the land knows them not. It is cold, indifferent and deadly, and they spend a lonely and fearful winter freezing, starving, and dying. They bury nearly half of their number: one half of these Pilgrims buries the other half, and in the spring they plant crops and they hunt for food.

They had the amazing good luck to land near a village where the famous Indian named Squanto lived. Squanto probably spoke more English than any Indian on the continent, and he helped them survive and plant crops. Without him, they might all have died.

The crop is good. There is food here after all, there can be life here. I cannot imagine how they might have felt: the combinations of life and death, tragedy and joy, famine and feast. It was like all of life, compressed into one year. And by late summer, when they could at last celebrate a good crop, half of those with whom they had hoped to celebrate were dead.

Maybe that's why the first Thanksgiving lasted for three days. There was much eating, drinking, and merriment between the surviving Pilgrims and Chief Massasoit and ninety of his people. The menu for the feast was venison stew cooked over an outdoor fire; spit-roasted wild turkeys stuffed with corn bread; oysters baked in their shells; sweet corn baked in its husks; and pumpkin baked in a bag and flavored with maple syrup. The food was served on large wooden serving platters, and everyone ate their fill.

After dinner, legend has it that Chief Massasoit's brother disappeared into the woods and returned with a bushel of popped popcorn, which the Pilgrims had never tasted before.1

These are the bare bones of the story of the first Thanksgiving: we don't know many other details. It was the story of a small group of people who seemed to have both the character and the courage necessary to transform hell into heaven.

By all rights, all 102 of them should have been dead by spring. But they were not dead, and they proved it in a way that still beckons to us by its sheer magnificence of spirit. After the harvest, in the midst of a field dotted with the markers of almost four dozen graves, graves of wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters-in the midst of this field, they threw a party of thanksgiving. They invited over some new friends, had a sumptuous feast, they said some prayers to honor the still-warm memory of those they had lost, and then they did a simple thing so powerful that it freed them from despair, a simple thing so powerful that it can still do the same for us: they gave thanks.

They gave thanks because they knew that this life, even as it is punctuated with occasional pain, suffering, loss of life and loss of love, is still pure miracle, the greatest gift we will ever receive.

May we all, this Thanksgiving, find again that more adequate and more honest attitude toward life: that attitude that overwhelms us with the sheer wonder of it all. May we give a rest to our habits of complaining that the gift is not perfect, long enough to recognize that the gift is miraculous, and fleeting. And may we not let it pass us by without stopping to give thanks.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Art Party

Well, art party for one at the moment anyway.  Just enjoying the afternoon/evening by just hanging out with Tiger, Dolly and Enya and playing with my art materials and seeing where they take me.  Words just don't seem to be able to cover what I want to express.  So... here it goes.  Hope everyone has a wonderful weekend.  - Misty