This week the United States celebrated its cherished holiday feast of Thanksgiving. This holiday, now one of America’s most treasured traditions, has its own history whose effect is a snowball of pop cultural marketing effects such as Black Friday and the Presidential pardoning of two Turkeys who live out the remainder of their fortunate lives at Disneyland. This contemporary version of the first Thanksgiving banquet represents the historical unlikelihood of two opposing cultures, naturally at loggerheads, coming together in a feast of kinship, a strange new sense of affinity as human beings rather than as competing peoples. It seems that the side in need found a sentiment of compassion from the other side, an offering generating a reflection of gratitude from the ‘other’ side of the other.

Traditionally, children are taught that the first Thanksgiving feast took place in 1621. The Pilgrims had landed in America in 1620, and it is widely believed that without the Native Americans the Pilgrims would not have survived the winter. But the harvest of 1621 was bountiful and the Pilgrim’s feast (which included everything from berries, to lobster and shellfish, and wild foul or ‘turkey’) included many Native Americans.

This isn’t a history lesson, but the Pilgrims and Americans could not have known the effect that this originally peaceful collision would have upon their future relationship. “Good” will eventually lead to “bad” and “bad” eventually leads to “good.” But let me consider for a moment that an active offering met with passive acceptance resulted in an initial reconciliation, a day of thanksgiving, relative peace, and brotherhood. Now it may be that the Native American offering of food stores to the starving pilgrims in 1620 was more than a simple act of compassion. The collective mindset is often filled with an array of social, political, and religious movements that motivate our actions. But I wonder, is it possible to sustain a feast of thankfulness among beings divided between two sides of a table? Is gratitude possible when a society is split into two, or four, or 100, or 7 billion? Or is every tradition bound to become a drunken fist fight between Uncle Bob and Aunt Edna coming at each other across the dining table? Is that yet another story within the story?

I also wonder if human beings can ever forget to perceive their own race as “other”? Imagine, if most people can’t manage to view their own race without distorting their images into unknown creatures – into competitors, prey, and predators- how can a “funny looking” bird of a different race ever stand a chance? What bird-eating man can ever feel compassion for a bird?

So I ask myself, what is actual compassion? Is there a well of gratitude so deep that it would allow no ‘other’ living being (human or otherwise) to escape its grasp? Can such a well of depth exist? The Native American, if he had no other agenda in mind, had to bring the Pilgrim into his periphery of “I”. When one lives life as if it were an unbalanced equation with many sides tugging at the equal sign, one lives by comparison, by judgment, by pushing and pulling, loving and hating, playing and fighting. Aunt Edna and Uncle Bob may be helpless drunks, but they are still “my family” and I am thankful for “my” family. Meanwhile, there is a divide within the divide of “my” family as Bob and Edna spit venom at each other all Thanksgiving Day ruining everyone’s enjoyment of the guest of honor appearing before us dressed as the unthankful carcass of a bird soon to be consumed in a gesture of gratitude!

Yes, Thanksgiving is the national holiday which reminds us to be thankful for all the extensions of “me, myself, and I”. This holiday is a reminder to be thankful for what food and shelter and friends and family one has – all the ‘things’ one believes one possesses in life – and that whatever is deemed ‘bad’ should always be regarded in the light of the thought, ‘it could always be worse.’ But what of LIFE itself apart from all things, people, and circumstances? Perhaps it’s because I feel grateful by comparison that I need reminders to think in terms of thankfulness. Why else would I need a reminder to feel grateful, to remain humble? Why do I need a “holiday season” to cause an effect in me of being kinder to strangers or gentler and more patient with loved ones? Why would I forget to be kind to those I supposedly love (and don’t get me wrong I really do love Uncle Bob and Aunt Edna although once a year is quite enough). But this well of thanks somehow seems too shallow. What is missing from this picture? Where does one find depth?

Suddenly the realiztion unfolds before me: depth can never be found in a picture, only the representation of depth can be found in an image! Could it be that gratitude is not the thing I THINK it is when I compare my side to yours? Isn’t the common form of gratefulness, if I notice, nothing more than a thought in my mind? When I don’t think to be grateful then I am not. When I think to be grateful then I am. Isn’t this strange? It’s like the thought of love: “Oh I forgot to think of my loved one today!” – does this mean one loves by thought alone? “Oh I feel grateful today!” – does this mean that I am a truly grateful human being? The “I” finds an affinity with the “other” and by projecting this affinity the ‘other’ reflects gratitude back, acknowledging the commonality. For the moment we are on the same side of the equation. But have no doubt that ‘other’s’ do remain on ‘other’ sides. And be wary that those who sit at my table may, no sooner than consuming the flesh on their plates, thank their host, excuse themselves and once again walk out of “my” periphery and across the boundary into the ‘other’ side.

As I sit at the dinner table with all the extensions of “I” and watch as their forks causally stab the flesh of the feast’s greatest guest of honor, the Turkey, I realize that mankind’s potential for Thanksgiving is NOT THIS. “You” still remain on your side and I am thankful for what I have because you do not have it, while you are thankful for what you have because I do not have it. But what if we were all SIMPLY THANKFUL…not for things we have or don’t have, but simply for Life? For Being?

I look at the plate at the center of the dining room table. There lies the carcass which is considered a great blessing by those who consume it whole heartedly and with utmost pleasure on this day of thanks. In this moment I plainly SEE that the Turkey before me is NOT on my side of the equation. The Turkey and the man can never simultaneously give thanks. This sort of thanksgiving is always a conflict of interest. Thankfulness is a realization of depth that arises from one’s whole hearted acceptance of Life as it IS. Gratitude can never exist as a hollow projection, a shallow well, or a flat picture.

Surely we shall continue to celebrate this yearly reminder of thanksgiving projecting all kinds of ideals, reflecting all kinds of hopes and dreams for future turkey carcasses on our dining tables. And so I must exclaim in my loudest voice, “Run Turkey, Run! For you are the ‘other’ on this ‘blessed’ day of thanks for which you shall never feel grateful!”

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