I am of two minds about Thanksgiving. On the one hand, I find more reasons to be thankful every year. I am more conscious of my blessings now than I ever have been. On the other hand, my feelings about the origin story of the Thanksgiving holiday become more conflicted the more I learn. It’s an internal battle which has been raging over the last several days.
Last night a tweet from a Baltimore photojournalist gave me an unexpectedly new perspective. But first it made me laugh.
inside you there are two cats, and every few hours they'll pretend like they've literally never eaten before
It’s a joking reference, of course, to the Two Wolves legend, where a wise elder imparts wisdom through storytelling. An example of this story from the film Pathfinder:
Starfire: "There are two wolves fighting in each man’s heart. One is love, the other is hate."
Ghost: "Which one wins?"
Starfire: "The one you feed the most."
In the case of my Thanksgiving dilemma, though, both parts are equally valid. I do have much to be thankful for. The real history of European white colonizers in North America is violent and shameful. There is not one wolf to feed. There are two cats demanding to be fed.
It’s hard to hold both perceptions in my head without wanting to turn down the volume on the one that makes me uncomfortable. I hope that I am learning and growing enough to make room for both and to value the kind of learning that requires me to be uncomfortable. The fact that I am financially stable enough to have the physical and mental energy to contemplate this is not lost on me.
It’s a sort of privilege to be able to consider all this. In a warm home. With food in my refrigerator.
So, what’s next? Where do I go with that realization that I have much to be thankful for? Or that my ancestors haven’t told the truth about our history or taken responsibility for it? What will I do? - - because that’s the next step of the journey. To return to my earlier analogy, I’m not feeding the cats merely to get them to stop screaming. I am nourishing them with the commitment to see them grow and thrive.
Here is the Thanksgiving Address of the Haudenosaunee* People, which I found when reading “Rethinking Thanksgiving Celebrations: Native Perspectives on Thanksgiving” from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian website.
These were not words set aside for one particular day devoted to thanksgiving. They were spoken repeatedly at gatherings throughout the year. Not a celebration, but a practice. A way of life.
However you spend this day, I hope there will be something in it that brings you joy, and that inspires you to share that joy. That’s what turns one day of celebration into a way of life.
*Learn more about the Haudenosaunee people.