In many ways this feels like a strange year to be giving thanks.
2020 hasn’t been a great year for nearly anyone. Many of us will be spending the holidays alone, only able to connect with our loved ones virtually. And particularly in a year marked by mass movements to address racial injustice, the problematic history of Thanksgiving mythology and the historical atrocities against Native peoples should make this time of year cause for reflection more so than gauzy Hallmark nostalgia.
But like much of American history, there’s a core of idealism at the heart of our history and traditions, and if we’d just finally live up to those aspirations, we could actually have the character and society that we too often celebrate uncritically, as if those ideals have already been achieved because we merely wrote them down long ago in our founding documents.
That means eschewing some of our myths that mask the raw brutality of the “rugged individualism” that justified slaughtering herds of buffalo in the midwest to starve Native populations and enslaving millions of human beings. It means actually living up to our ideals around equality, inclusion, and community.
Just as the modern Thanksgiving holiday was established by Abraham Lincoln at a crossroads in American history during the Civil War in 1863, we’re at a new juncture this Thanksgiving where we’re re-fighting some of our old battles and where we face stern tests of personal and civic character.
A lot of us have choices this Thanksgiving.
We can live up to our democratic ideals that respect the will of the people, or we can selfishly try to take what isn’t ours and convince ourselves it’s something other than a new manifestation of the same pure, self-interested greed that led to some of the darkest moments in our history.
We can make personal sacrifices this holiday season to avoid spreading COVID-19, or we can put our loved ones, health care workers, and vulnerable populations at greater risk of dying from a pandemic that’s already taken 250,000 of us and left vastly more with bodies that will never be the same.
We can stare reality in the face and reflect on the true history of this holiday and the current injustices of the world, or we can retreat into fictions that make us feel more comfortable and salve our egos.
Still, even in the most jarring and stressful year many of us have ever experienced, there is still plenty to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. We’re still here.
I’m very grateful to all of you who read this blog, all of the wonderful clients I’ve worked with, and for the country that is ever-striving in its own jagged and inconsistent way to be a more perfect union.
There’s work ahead to dig out and rebuild from this time and address our continued shortcomings, and I hope it’s our ideals, not our selfishness, that serve as our north star.
Have a very safe Thanksgiving and thank you again for enriching my life with your presence! I’m going to take a quick blog break this week and will be back with writing and publishing advice next Monday.
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Art: Still life with a turkey pie by Pieter Claesz