It’s early Thanksgiving morning. Here, on the Southeast Massachusetts Coast, the sun arrives early, even on a mostly cloudy day like today. This day, the sunrise colors are muted purples and grays. The water in the bay below, which we can just see through the bare branches of trees, reflects the cool grays of the overcast sky.
Plymouth lies to our north and east. There, today, most shops are open for Thanksgiving is their busiest tourist day of the year. The town will be bustling, as people stream in to visit the Plantation and other attractions, seeking to step back to a simpler, more mythic, time.
Those first European villages, poised on the thin edge between the great forest and the sea, were fragile outposts, peopled with the persecuted, exiled and desperate. Those first winters would have been frightening, even desperate. Many colonists died, some returned to Europe or migrated to more southerly climes. Mostly, the survivors hung on.
For First Nations peoples, knowledgeable about the climatic and ecological systems of our region, there was usually enough. Generosity was a primary social value. One shared, both feast and hunger. The colonists needed much, and the local First Nations people offered what they could.
Within a few years the colonies grew strong, and the European colonists began to move into lands previously held by First Nations peoples. The ensuing clash of values and cultures is legendary, and set the ecological, social and moral conditions we, as a country, still wrestle with.
The Colonists’ early experience of scarcity and fear became central to our national zeitgeist. So did the greed inherent in expansion, and the guilt that arose from the betrayal of the generosity of the First Nations, and the subsequent genocide.
Genocide weighs heavily on a people, both the victors and the vanquished, for many generations. The theft of lands, destruction of cultures, and hoarding of resources inherent in colonialist expansion reinforce fear, and give rise to desperate greed. For the victors, the resulting shame and guilt frequently blind both individuals and cultures to opportunities for repentance and reparation. Connection, empathy, and understanding are lost.
Also lost may be the capacity for gratitude, for thanksgiving, as deep appreciation and empathy are inexorably linked. As we settle into this national day of Thanksgiving, may we enter the shaman’s world, aware of our innate connection to all beings. May we awaken to a new dream, recognizing ourselves in the other. May we acknowledge the real impacts of our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors on the many peoples, human and not, with whom we share the world. May we know empathy and gratitude, and be generous. And may we be truly thankful for the gift of our lives on this mysterious planet.