Thursday, November 24, 2011

What to do on Thanksgiving


the torch
down from the wall
and bravely wake
the sleeping giant
of your soul

dormant magnificence
out of her crouching
fraction of light

hips arms and legs
into stomp
and thunder
on the dance floor of
your particular praise!

This is my daily goal, not just on Thanksgiving.

Friends around the world do not necessarily know about American Thanksgiving, how it began and why we celebrate, what we celebrate. Here's an explanation I wrote to a friend in another country. It's the traditional, happy, non-NativeAmerican view of the holiday:
Legend is that it began with the first European settlers to America. They didn't know about the New World's agriculture. The Native Americans befriended and helped them understand and raise the crops that were new to them, like corn. So when harvest time came, they had a big feast and included their new friends, celebrating together. Every year they celebrated again, and so the tradition continued. Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday in the 1860s. Since then it has become the most beloved holiday in the U.S., because there is no religious affiliation, no gifts to buy, no commerce outside of food, no complications (except family). People just gather and express thanks for what we have. Traditionally we eat a turkey, which they would have eaten in the 1600s, along with fish and other meats and vegetables like pumpkin, squash and corn. It is a beautiful idea.

BUT the truth is that the European immigrants to the New World brought the most horribly annihilating devastation to the Native Americans that it almost seems like a cruel joke that we celebrate with thanks today. (I also sent this information to my friend.) I don't know how to reconcile these two perspectives, and I don't think there is any reconciliation. I do think the day provides an opportunity to face straight on what has been done in the name of God (the Pilgrim settlers thanked God, not the Native Americans), commerce, and "progress." You can watch a powerfully honest look at the Native American view of Thanksgiving here; I warn you, it isn't pretty or happy.

So, this is what we do. We investigate our shadow and destruction. We do what we can to make it right. We wake up. As Rob Brezsny says, we can always, always be thankful for all our blessings, both the pleasurable ones, and the painful ones, because they wake us up.

Wake up, wake up, and be thankful that you are awake. Love your family and friends, love your neighbor, love your enemy, and celebrate when you stop seeing them as your enemy. Isn't that something to dance about, in wild abandon?



Cait O'Connor said...

Thank you for that explanation. Getting together and giving thanks is such a positive thing to do.

I love your poem.

Shari Sunday said...

Happy Thanksgiving, Ruth. Gratitude is a powerful thing, both in our private lives and for the world. We can't wait for perfection because it never comes, but I hope our celebrations and thoughts of gratitude have some small impact on a very unfair world.

Susan said...

I'm very thankful to count you as one of my very bestest friends, dear lady. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours! Much love from David and me.

Shari Sunday said...

BTW, Beautiful image, beautiful words. It is a sad commentary on the human condition that many of us have so much trouble just dealing with our own families and cooking a big meal. I have gotten a little better with it over the years :-)

Stratoz said...

dance away.

steven said...

wow! wow! it took until today - just finishing reading your unpacking of this day - for me to begin the approach to understanding this day for americans. "stirring dormant magnificence." steven

Lilith said...

Love the poem and the waking up. I'm definitely pro waking up.

Judy (kenju) said...

Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving!! That's a wonderful poem.

Louise Gallagher said...

I am dancing with you.

We too have 'that past' as a nation that continues to walk our streets and fall down in our communities. And we continue to ask -- what is their problem?

And we don't like the answer -- we are.

We are the problem but we are not the solution.

Last night I had dinner with two speakers here for a conference on poverty. How do we change the face of poverty was hot on the topics discussed. We don't change it's face. We change our hearts.

Hugs to you beautiful Ruth. Your words -- Wake up, wake up -- are powerful ones to carry into this day.

HAve a blessed Thanksgiving.

George said...

Happy Thanksgiving, Ruth, and thanks for this wonderful post. May you and your expanding family be blessed, not only today, but every day of the year.

Heather said...

Ruth, that video was heartbreaking. Thank you for reminding us that our holiday has such a contradictory history. All best to you and yours. Blessings. Heather.

J.G. said...

Seeing things whole is not always pleasant but is assuredly necessary. Thank you for the reminder that this day has a deeper meaning.

Your last paragraph could be a little "found poem." (Perhaps you already knew that.)

Have a wonderful day.

Grandmother said...

What struck me first is how very generous you are to your readers. Not just a poem but the history of Thanksgiving. Not just the usual portrayal but the whole truth of our shadow past. Not just all that but a link to those most qualified to speak of the other heartbreaking side of Thanksgiving. Generous indeed. Thank you.
As for your poem, it is a call to action that galvanized me to sit down and do just what you challenged us to do. I'm just emerging three hours later (we don't celebrate Thanksgiving in Italy). There WAS a sleeping giant in there! I salute your amazing talent, I'm grateful to you and wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.

Maureen said...

Our history books fail us, so we have to explore to find the truth on our own, and then pull back the scrim of myth to reveal "shadow and destruction". I tried to do that with my post yesterday on the Wampanoag, which I linked to a friend's post adding additional context for a day that among the indigenous is a day of mourning.

Thank you for a lovely post. Wishing you the blessings of this Thanksgiving Day.

California Girl said...

Happy Thanksgiving Ruth.

xo CG

Barb said...

I'll do the dance with you, Ruth. Happy Thanksgiving.

Relyn said...

The meal has been eaten.
The kitchen is clean.
The leftovers are stashed.
The walk has been taken.
Everyone is happy and fed and blessed.
Now I have the time to stop by.
On this Thanksgiving Day, I wanted to tell you that I am thankful for the inspiration this blog always brings. Sending you much love, Relyn

Brendan said...

Gratitude -- the essence, I think, of Thanksgiving -- can only be learned (or earned) through the act of giving thanks. And what better way to express gratitude than to dance? I know your own Thanksgiving this year has been troubled by events, but the song here of "your particular praise" remains undaunted here. Thanks for ringing the bell so wildly and clear. - Brendan

Ruth said...

Thanks to all of you, Kind Friends, for your thoughtful comments.

I am a bit preoccupied with the health of my mother-in-law, who went into intensive care early Thanksgiving morning (after this post) dangerously ill with a kidney infection. She is better, but still in ICU. Of course Thanksgiving dinner was put aside at our house, while Don went down to be with her. It is difficult to see the pain and threat to her life as a "blessing," in the spirit of my post, except that she is with us, and we can focus our attention on her and her sweetness. She wanted to know from her wires and monitors from behind her oxygen mask, "Did Peter win the Turkey Trot 5K? How is Lesley?"

Stratoz said...

Peace and Hope

Chris G. said...

Now here's one to stir a smile (the poem of course - not the unfortunately true facts of ye olde Turkey Day origins). Embrace life. Reach out toward the light of it; open your eyes, and breathe deep its glory.

And most importantly: enjoy the dance to come. Love that last stanza of yours.

Think I enjoyed the fact that I read this today, on Black Friday, even more than if I'd read it on Thanksgiving - provides a nice contrast to the darker side of humanity this day does bring out!

hedgewitch said...

Best wishes for your mother-in-law, Ruth. The only blessing such events bring is the solidarity and love of those who care. I've long thought of Thanksgiving(and Christmas) as manufactured holidays, meant to extract money and not much more. They are hollow except for whatever content of the heart we can bring to them. The cultural and social bonds get thinner all the time(witness that now Thanksgiving itself is part of the induced shopping frenzy that this year in many places ended in violence and near rioting over the chance to get an electronic device on sale.)I'm sure there are many Native Americans, and others, shaking their heads, appalled but not surprised at yesterday's news. Thanks for the informative post, and once again, best wishes to your family.

amy@ Souldipper said...

One of the most uncluttered and honest descriptions of Thanksgiving.

We all - native and non-native would benefit from following your poem. Especially the dancing part. Together. (Though when I tried to dance with my First Nations friends, the women jiggled with giggles - then broke into hilarity. They said it was my footwork that did it, but I'm not sure!)

Oliag said...

I hope you had a most wonderful of days Ruth! I do dance with abandon when I think of all the friends I have...

Ginnie said...

I know this was an unexpectedly hard Thanksgiving for you, dear Sister. And you're still reeling from it. My thoughts are still with you and Don.

You've raised such a disturbing juxtaposition to Thanksgiving's historical meaning for us. Thank you for this honesty. May we never forget, and may we always learn from our mistakes.

Jeanie said...

Exactly. Like so many things, when you pull back the curtain, it's not always a pretty picture. But giving thanks -- that's something we should do each day. If we need one day a year to remind us all, then bring on the bird, the stuffing, the gourds. And remember. And be grateful.