November 13, 2009

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Many of my friends have said, over the past few weeks, "I feel conflicted about celebrating Thanksgiving with my family and overlooking all of the obvious evil that came of it at the expense of the native Americans." Then they look at me, asking, if only with their eyes, well? Are you going to celebrate the downfall of native American culture with your kids?

I've given it some thought. I sit asking myself if I am just going along with the crowd to avoid the discomfort of taking a stand, or if there is really a good reason to smack talk Thanksgiving at all. Frankly, after the whole changing my religion thing, I'm pretty good at doing what I think is right even when it is incredibly awkward and uncomfortable for everyone I encounter. But, I'll examine the issue anyway. Here's my train of thought...

There are many things that we celebrate, and encourage people to celebrate, that were amazing events. But those events can be traced forward in history to devastating events. I mean, would the crusades have ever taken place had Jesus not been born? Nope. But we love the Christmas season, right? No one ever says, "Gosh, I feel so conflicted about celebrating the birth of my savior because so many people died at the hands of over zealous Christians." Nor should they. The birth of Jesus was a world changing event that guided mankind back to the path towards it's God.

I'd like to think that the same is true, on a smaller scale, of course, for Thanksgiving. Yes, ultimately the kindness of some of the Indians did lead to their demise at the hands of the the pilgrims. But let's consider what our own lives would be like had the pilgrims never left their mother country for the shores of the Americas. We'd all be forced to worship in the same way as the queen. Right? My Mormon friends and my Baha'i friends, perhaps even you Baptists out there, would be forced to worship God in a foreign way because no one ever had the courage to get up and go someplace where everyone could serve God in their own way. I certainly appreciate that. I don't have to diminish the horrors inflicted upon the native people to be glad I'm where I am with the freedoms I enjoy.

I know, as a Baha'i I'm not supposed to be all big on civil disobedience, but I sure do enjoy the results every day. We're all kidding ourselves if we deny that. I enjoy being able to raise my kids in the faith that I choose, with no one of any real power telling me not to. And had it not been for those controversial pilgrims, I might not be able to do that.

I also think of what must have been the thinking of those few natives that took the chance, the really huge risk, and taught the white man what he needed to survive. Were they hoping for harmony? To bridge a gap? Were they hoping that this would be an olive branch? My most skeptical friends say I'm kidding myself and that they were looking to capitalize on the situation as much as the white man. But, things look different looking back, with the knowledge of what was to come. Hindsight is not 20/20. Hindsight causes us to generalize thousands of souls into a handful of characters. Hindsight gives us the white man, the brown man, and the queen's minions. That's it.

But I certainly believe that within those stereotypes were individuals who sought peace and goodness. I think that those first few that extended the olive branch were aiming for harmony. Maybe I'm delusional. But what we have become, what my friends are working towards- this idea that we are all the same and of value-that's probably a task those first natives who stuck their necks out in peace would have wanted. That's what they were risking it all for. Maybe. And I want to celebrate that as well. Celebrate risking it all in for good and for peace. Call me crazy.

So, I welcome any challenges on this train of thought. I'm not married to it, and I'm no history scholar. Maybe I have a huge misunderstanding of the facts. But for this year, at least, this is what Thanksgiving is for us. It is a day that we choose to be thankful for our ability to be Baha'i or LDS or Church of Christ or pagan without the fear of having our humble heads chopped off.

Happy Thanksgiving Season!

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