Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks

I supposed the inevitable result of leaving the comfort of my hometown and my family and loved ones, coupled with my relocation to an area heavily populated with Native Americans has changed my outlook a bit on Thanksgiving. It is a clash of ideals, but I think I've managed to focus on the really important parts.

To start with the bad, I have a friend out here who is particularly sensitive about the plight of the Native American people. Anyone who has spent much time with me knows I am not insensitive to others, but at the same time I am not at all sensitive myself when it comes to touchy subjects. That might not be clear: what I mean is, I'm empathetic to others, but I don't easily get bent out of shape by ignorant or derogatory comments directed at my own heritage, culture, background, etc. But this friend of mine, who is normally extremely easy going and laid back, gets very defensive at even the best-humored jokes about his people. And he hates Thanksgiving. He hates what it stands for, he hates how it came to be, its tradition, its values. He also hates the name, "Redskins," for all the same reason. Nevermind that he's a Giants fan. And I think he has every right to be upset about a holiday that is meant for giving thanks for all the things we are lucky enough to possess, but that is based on an era when we took and took and took and then just slaughtered the hands that fed us. I'm sure the real story is somewhere between what the average American thinks, what we read in text books, and what the Native Americans think happened. No one living at that time was going to write this story without some bias.

But while I understand his displeasure with the theme, I think its meaning and its purpose has made it something different. Some of the best inventions are the result of some of the worst decisions and mistakes in history. Thanksgiving might be one of those mistakes. What was done in that time period was undeniably horrible. But what has come out of it is one of the happiest days of the year for so many Americans. It is a time to embrace your family and your loved ones, to bring people together, to relax, to be carefree, to enjoy the best meal of the year with all the people who are most important to you. It is a vacation from the routine, an excuse to let down your guard, a reason to get in touch with old friends, a relief from the stresses of "the real world." Sure, it still symbolizes the meeting of the pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe, if that actually happened (again, no one seems to really know what actually happened). The way the story goes, the two peoples came together for a joyous day of feast and festivity. That is the essence of the holiday. What happened before and after that celebration are not really a part of what today is supposed to mean.

So, with as much respect and sympathy and appreciation and recognition as I can give to the Native people (as family lore goes, I may even be part Native myself, a distant descendant of Metacomet, better known as King Philip), when an apology will mean nothing, I still celebrate this holiday as a reason to give thanks for family, for friends, for life, and for the amazing feast we are about to enjoy.

Many thanks to the Haiks for taking us in as a part of their Phoenix valley transplant refugee dinner, bringing us in to the family atmosphere that makes Thanksgiving so special.

Everyone enjoy your dinners and your family time. Appreciate that you are able to take this time out of your life, even if you aren't very close with your family, or if you don't get along with them. It's an important day, and it can create some great memories if you'll let it.

Lastly, congratulations to the Wittings for giving birth to healthy twin boys, Dylan

and Tanner Witting.