My teens remind me that this holiday of Thanksgiving has a checkered past. Its origin reminds us of when the generosity of one people was met with oppression by the other. Yet the tradition of giving thanks for a successful harvest, and later, gratitude for making it through a variety of difficult times, is a long one and is shared by many people of different cultures.
What keeps us going in difficult and challenging times? We are certainly living in such a time now, with widespread economic hardship and disparity. Is there something essential that we can access under any circumstances that gives us strength and brings us peace?
The practice of gratitude allows us to find the beauty in our lives, acknowledge the love we give and receive, and experience ourselves as grounded and balanced. It is not the same thing as being in denial of adversity. It does not preclude realistic analysis of the situation, or take away from tough decision-making and planning. Rather, it helps us appreciate and understand what we have, which is necessary to illuminate our view of the path ahead.
So for me, Thanksgiving is an opportunity for gratitude practice within the context of the greater community. It’s important to know its checkered past, to do everything in our power to transform a history of oppression into appreciation and gratitude for diverse cultures and peoples. And, of course, we celebrate with a great feast of thanks for the delicious harvest.
Two years ago, my son was a junior in high school and studying in Israel for the fall semester. He was about to travel with his group to Poland to study the Holocaust. The parents were asked to write letters which would be given to the students while they were there, for support during a difficult time, while they visited the death camps. I wanted to write something for him about hope, and started writing a poem, but it morphed itself into a poem about bread and peace. I think the two are strongly related, for we must have hope to be able to envision a world in peace.
Recipe for Peace: Bread of the Earth
Take a very large bowl
And put the world into it.
Stir carefully while adding:
-1 measure of pure warm rain
-a double measure of the milk of human kindness
-1 teaspoon of wildflower honey
Sprinkle with your hands full of the leavening of humor.
While it starts to rise
Go away and leave it alone.
Use the time to lie in the sun
With your ancient Labrador retriever,
Arm resting on her lumpy softness,
Her breath whistling in your ear.
After all, DOG IS MY COPILOT.
After she gets too hot, check the bowl.
The bubbles are proof that it will all come together.
Time to add more ingredients, this time by feel:
-seeds of change – be sure to put in enough
-breezes of hope fanned by millions of wings
-a mixture of human endeavor soaked in spirits
-some squeaky wheels liberally greased
-a few salty tears to bring out the flavor
Knead it with compassionate hands,
All the hands around the table,
Each sliding off the others
As the dough is stretched and compressed,
Formed, shaped, irrevocably changed by every touch.
While you are kneading, sing –
Find the notes that bring
The work and the workers together into harmony.
Then – you will know when – rest the dough.
Cover with good intentions.
Use this time to learn someone else’s language,
Talk to a stranger,
Or wonder who lives in outer space.
The time has come.
Now the dough can be brought
Into alignment with the stars,
Shaped into the peace that will perfectly fit
The pan it was meant to inhabit.
Slipping the pan into a crucible
Of uncounted starfire, you wait.
The scent is tantalizing –
It is what you have always longed for,
Yet do not know.
Finally, it is here, in your own kitchen.
And you sit with all the others,
Feeling the purr of your warm cat
Extending her vibration from your lap
Out to the universe,
While inside is Peace.
c. November 11, 2009