Thursday, November 24, 2016

On being thankful for...

Before I moved to Minnesota, I lived up the road from Plymouth Rock and Plimoth Plantation. As a native son of Massachusetts, I learned most of the traditional stories of the First Thanksgiving and the (real) Tea Party rebellion. At the time I lived in Massachusetts, there was nothing (that I knew of) similar to Birchbark Books in Minneapolis. From places like Birchbark, I've learned about less traditional, and more accurate, versions of the Thanksgiving story. This Thanksgiving, in particular, I'm thankful that Minnesota has and supports book stores like Birchbark and organizations like the Minnesota Humanities Center and the Bdote Memory Map.

was turkey on the first Thanksgiving menu?
was turkey on the first Thanksgiving menu?
Photo by J. Harrington

To be clear, although I'm thankful and grateful for my family, friends, pets, health and, not least, the fact that I'm still here to enjoy them, I'm also particularly thankful these days for writers such as Rebecca Solnit, who wrote (and updated) Hope in the Dark, and Terry Tempest Williams for living and writing Finding Beauty in a Broken World. We can definitely be thankful for such insight and guidance as we seem to be in the midst of that Chinese curse of living in interesting times. Although I'm inclined to accept the version of the story that the Pilgrims came to North America to escape religious persecution and discrimination in England, I'll be particularly full of thanksgiving on the day that the citizens of the United States stop dragging that kind of baggage with them and paying it forward. Thanksgiving is a holiday to be shared with family, friends, and especially those who differ from us and those who have been less lucky than many of us are. Think about how much of what you have is largely an accident of where, when and to whom you were born. Can any of us really claim credit for that (John Calvin notwithstanding)?

How Wonderful


By Irving Feldman


How wonderful to be understood,
to just sit here while some kind person
relieves you of the awful burden
of having to explain yourself, of having
to find other words to say what you meant,
or what you think you thought you meant,
and of the worse burden of finding no words,
of being struck dumb . . . because some bright person
has found just the right words for you—and you
have only to sit here and be grateful
for words so quiet so discerning they seem
not words but literate light, in which
your merely lucid blossoming grows lustrous.
How wonderful that is!

And how altogether wonderful it is
not to be understood, not at all, to, well,
just sit here while someone not unkindly
is saying those impossibly wrong things,
or quite possibly they’re the right things
if you are, which you’re not, that someone
—a difference, finally, so indifferent
it would be conceit not to let it pass,
unkindness, really, to spoil someone’s fun.
And so you don’t mind, you welcome the umbrage
of those high murmurings over your head,
having found, after all, you are grateful
—and you understand this, how wonderful!—
that you’ve been led to be quietly yourself,
like a root growing wise in darkness
under the light litter, the falling words.


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