According to descendants of the Wampanoag Nation, the first feast that came to be called Thanksgiving didn’t really happen, and the events that led up to the myth were far from celebratory for them. The thing was sparked by fear. In their version of the story, in 1621, the Wampanoag heard the Pilgrims firing off their guns and canons and thought it might be a declaration of war. Chief Massasoit and a party of warriors traveled to the Plymouth colony to find out.
It turned out that the pilgrims were just celebrating their meager harvest, and the fact that half of them had survived the year after landing, 51 or 102 passengers. But the Wampanoag stayed for days to be sure, hunting and foraging and sharing food with the white settlers. There was no formal invitation to a shared feast, no evidence that turkey was served, and there was definitely no pumpkin pie because there was no flour or butter for crusts.
Waking up to the present moment means realizing that the present includes past, present, and future. We awaken to the whole of our lives, and this can include the lives of our ancestors. We awaken to the beauty of our lives and also the pain. We awaken to the gifts that we usually don’t see as gifts.
“Everything is a gift,” teaches Brother David Steindl-Rast. “The degree to which we are awake to this truth is a measure of our gratefulness. Day and night, gifts keep pelting down on us. If we were aware of this, gratefulness would overwhelm us. But we go through life in a haze.”
A power failure makes us aware of what a gift electricity is; a sprained ankle lets us appreciate walking as a gift, a sleepless night, sleep. How much we are missing in life by noticing gifts only when we are suddenly deprived of them.”
But think of the Indians, those who gave thanks to the whole of creating for the gift of life, whose land the white settlers took by violence, those whom the white settlers betrayed and killed? How could they go on giving thanks?
“Eyes see only light, ears hear only sound but a listening heart perceives meaning, “writes Brother Steindl-Rast. “Grateful living is a celebration of the universal give-and-take of life, a limitless yes to belonging. A lifetime may not be long enough to attune ourselves fully to the harmony of the universe. But just to become aware that we can resonate with it–that alone can be like waking up from a dream.”
Even when everything was taken from them, the Indians resonated with the whole of nature. They knew they belonged to the great web of creation. Even when everything was taken from them, they remained grateful for their power go on loving and belonging.
And what about those of us whose ancestors did the taking? How can we feel grateful? The root of heal is “to make whole.” It doesn’t mean being unscarred. It doesn’t mean not feeling pain. It means feeling pain, trusting that there is something greater in us that sees. It means coming out of our isolation into the light of an attention that sees with love, that sees from the heart. It means learning that we are not just what happened to us, but also this capacity to go on seeing and loving, resonating with all that touches us.
Softly, gently, moment by moment, as we allow ourselves to feel more, the wound of our separation from life begins to heal. Maybe not now, maybe not for a long time, but we can be healed, There is so much that can be revealed and restored to us, even if we never even knew that we lost it. We were made to resonate. We were made to live in harmony with creation. We may never get to the end of this work, but let us begin.