The sad truth is that no kindergartener wants to be a Pilgrim in the Thanksgiving play. In a way, it’s understandable. Feathers or a tight black hat? The choice is obvious.
But now that I am an adult (of sorts), I find the Pilgrims to be a fascinating lot. Imagine leaving your home, not once, but twice, and being so committed to your faith that you would crowd into a rickety ship and set sail for a land very few of your fellow countrymen had survived.
It’s not like one of us deciding to pull up stakes and move from Birmingham to Beverly Hills. Beverly Hills, for all of its eccentricities, is not an untried wilderness. It is already inhabited (with more than a few eccentrics) and contains places where you can live (for an eccentric amount of money) and stores where you can buy food (although you’ll have to take your own grocery bags).
The Pilgrims’ trip was more like a group of us moving to the moon, given the moon had been shown to possess air and water and things like that. The moon is a long way away and we have very little experience in dealing with its surface. How bad would things have to be in your life for you to volunteer for that move?
The Pilgrims disembarked and had to figure out on day one where they were going to sleep and what they were going to eat. And they did it. They built homes and planted crops and, despite many sad losses, moved forward with their lives.
History tells us they had a little help, though. The Pilgrims were bolstered along by the people who were native to the land. (Leave it to the Europeans to “discover” places where people already lived).
And you have to hand it to the Native American crowd. Their earlier encounters with Europeans generally hadn’t ended well, yet they gave the newly arrived Pilgrims a chance.
The Pilgrims and Native Americans gave each other room and helped each other … at least I’m assuming the Pilgrims had something to offer. I’d like to think the help went both ways.
Anyway, the first year passed, the crops were harvested, and somebody said, “We ought to have a party.” (Excellent idea.) The Pilgrims prepared some food, the Native Americans brought some other dishes. Basically, it was the first colonial potluck. They gave thanks to God, they enjoyed the food, but there must have been conversation, as well.
Otherwise … awkward. Somewhere in the first year, they had to have figured out how to communicate with each other.
Sadly, as time went on, history paints a different picture. Subsequent shiploads of settlers just settled right over the top of the Native Americans. They kept settling and settling until the Native Americans had to settle for patches of arid wasteland if they had a chance to settle at all. It was shameful. Take a trip out west. It still is.
But, that’s not what we’re celebrating on Thanksgiving. We’re celebrating those first few golden moments when everyone got along, much like the first half hour when all of your relatives congregate in the living room before dinner.
The best part of Thanksgiving (besides the squash casserole) is that it helps us remember that those moments were and are in our humanoid skill set. We can be nice when we want to. We can help and share and strive to communicate with people who are vastly different from us.
This year, I’m going to cut myself an extra slice of pumpkin pie and just be thankful for that.