What we talk about when we talk about Thanksgiving

So much is lost to time.

Names, faces, all the little hates and kindnesses that make up a life sink downward, settling into the thick silt beneath memory.

I wake on Thanksgiving morning while the rest of my family are still burrowed deep in dreams. There is a thought that has been troubling me, and it will out. This is what writing is–“a way of happening,” as Auden says of poetry, “a mouth.”

I think of all the mouths that have been silenced, the happenings mired deep in oblivion. On this day in particular, I think of the ones we have displaced. Why is it that there can be nothing in this world that is unblemished in its beauty, untinged by sorrow? C. S. Lewis and I have been hanging out long enough now that I know what he would say–something about the unfulfilled yearning that is proof of the divine spark compelling us beyond the earthly, the now. And I agree with him, but agreeing does not dull the ache that rises in my chest when I think of the origins of this day, its objective truth lost many generations ago.

I am thankful for so many things. My life is a better one than I deserve. But life isn’t a simple thing, and it rises from a murky past, from seeds sown in darkness and roots unseen. Today we will go to my parents’ house, and I will be surrounded by so much love and goodness that it will prick at the backs of my eyes and I will be, for an afternoon, almost perfectly content.

But I can’t banish from my thoughts the knowledge that the connection that birthed this day of gratitude spelled death for so many people. I don’t want to commit the sin of idealizing them, but it’s hard not to regret the loss of this country’s first people. They, like us, were far from perfect. They killed, lied, cheated, betrayed like the rest of us. Yet in their society, too often dismissed as “primitive,” rape was almost nonexistent. The wealthy and well-educated denizens of Rugby Road could learn a thing or two. This continent’s first inhabitants managed to walk the earth for generations untold without etching the evidence of their passing into it like a raw scar, a wound that will never fully heal. The power company threatening my neighbors with eminent domain and permanent environmental degradation could learn a thing or two.

It saddens me that there seems to be a liberal/conservative divide, an opposition between those who are saddened by what we have lost and those who push forward with optimism. It also mystifies me, as one who refuses to choose between two political parties that over time have blurred their ideologies so thoroughly that they are too often indistinguishable. I have heard liberals denigrate all Republicans as evil, across the board. And I have heard Republicans sneeringly reference “social justice,” as if anything about justice was worthy of anything but veneration.

This is the path our ancestors set us upon long ago. Much of it, I’m sure, was not of their intending, and yet it happened. When American Indians opened their hands and minds to a band of political refugees who did not ask for asylum but claimed it, they made my life possible, hundreds of years later. For if one thing had gone differently, wouldn’t everything else have changed, rippling down the ages like fate’s dominoes?

I can’t get them out of my head this morning, those long-ago people who welcomed the sick and hungry and ensured the success of an endeavor that would quickly turn to destruction. These people who, in the end, were more Christlike than the Christian society that all but erased them from history. Their loss saddens me.

And I am thankful for them. Everything I am, everything else I have to be thankful for–health, home, family, friends–is possible because hundreds of years ago, people of one color did not shoot people of another color on sight, but fed them, preserved them in an act of kindness that would be one nail in the coffin of their own undoing. We could all learn a thing or two.

So, this isn’t a warm, fuzzy Thanksgiving post. It has nothing to do with how many pies anyone baked. I don’t have any answers, just a swirling fog of thoughts to sift through, like the deep silt at the bottom of Parker’s Creek, where my sister and I played as children. We pretended we were Indians, gathering acorns to grind into bitter flour, acting out a small part of what we had already lost centuries ago without even knowing it.

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