The tale of the first Thanksgiving starts with the harvest celebration of the Pilgrims and the Indians that took place in the autumn of 1623.
As the story goes, the two groups, one invaders in the other’s land, put aside their differences and broke bread together to celebrate a harvest of food coming in the midst of a tough year of survival.
The story of that first Thanksgiving, though far removed from our lives in 2020, has many of the same elements. People of different backgrounds still approach each other with uncertainties. And when the barrier of differences is crossed, people come together for a common good, even as that "togetherness" is marked these days by 6-feet of distance.
That first Thanksgiving for the Pilgrims was in celebration of a bountiful harvest coming after a devastating winter months earlier.
The Indians had helped the newcomers to North America survive and had helped teach them how to hunt and grow crops that led to their bounty. History tells us their feast lasted three days.
This is 2020, centuries later, in a world in the grip of a virus pandemic that has killed 1.35 million people worldwide, 250,000 in the U.S., and continues to sicken millions more every day. A feast like that first Thanksgiving would be an unfortunate super-spreader event in the time of a pandemic, not the example of joyous unity considered in normal times. The Pilgrims’ harsh winter was of small consequence compared to this global devastation.
In this same year, we have witnessed a reawakening of protests for racial justice, an unprecedented election in which the president is refusing to concede, violence in our cities, and economic upheaval.
Come together and give thanks? Yes, and unlikely as it may seem, that first Thanksgiving has a message for us even in this troubled modern era.
We may be socially distanced from our loved ones, but we can join them in spirit with thankfulness for health and the joy of our households. Our physical isolation does not mean we have lost love, happy memories or common hopes.
Even in our virus worries, we have a remarkable reason to hope with the news of a vaccine coming sooner than predictions.
Like the Pilgrims’ hardships brought by climate and difficulty growing crops in a different land, people in our nation today have lost their income and beloved friends and family
Hurricanes and flooding have affected our fellow citizens this year, as have wildfires and tornadoes.
Immigrants continue to make their way to our borders in a quest for a better life, and we continue to grapple with the difficulties of balancing our humanity with a need to protect our borders.
Our nation and our communities struggle against racism and prejudice toward those different from us, and those shortcomings threaten to overcome any progress we may be making as a human race.
Families in this year have been shattered by the unexplainable deaths of loved ones. The effects have decimated the economy and left many without jobs and an income to pay the rent or buy food.
And yet ...
Even in the face of adversity and always in its aftermath, people of all races, religions and political persuasions come together and work for a common good. We have seen the positive result with a concerted enterprise to develop a COVID-19 vaccine quickly and safely. We witnessed during the summer Blacks and Whites kneeling together in our towns to demonstrate resolve for racial equity and an end to prejudice and brutality, demonstrations that have already resulted in police reforms aimed at better transparency and interracial understanding.
Not so different than the Indians and the Pilgrims who found enterprising ways to overcome hardships by working together.
As Thanksgiving celebrated their coming together, this day can be our coming together.
This can be the day we sit down to our own bounty, whether it is dinner for two with a Zoom meeting or takeout deliveries to relatives and friends around town. We can still join in a common gathering of thanks for surviving what we have survived and achieving what we can achieve.
Despite our troubles, we are blessed.
Despite our differences, we are the same in our basic needs for food, shelter, companionship and purpose.
Like our forefathers throughout the centuries, let us celebrate the harvest and be thankful that even in our distancing, we are not alone.