There’s something about this Thanksgiving that resonates deeply with the past. Back to the time of the first feast— And I’m not talking about images of a perfect family gathered around a spectacular roasted turkey, Norman Rockwell-like. After all, isn’t that how most Americans view the holiday? Quick, frenzied trips, across-country if necessary, to reacquaint with family, stuff ourselves, and hit the road home again. Year after year. It’s tradition. No, this year—it’s about…suffering.
Suffering is what binds us to the pilgrims who arrived EXACTLY 400 years ago. On Dec. 21, 1620, a landing party reached the site where the colony of Plymouth would be built. That first winter was tough and grim. Arriving so late in the year, only seven residences and four common houses (of the 19 planned structures) were built. Half of the 102 pilgrims perished in the first year, most in the first few months. Celebration of what we call the “First Thanksgiving” happened in October 1621 after almost a year of long, hard work. Only 53 pilgrims were left to attend the event. Those who remained probably took stock of the sacrifice and endurance it took to establish their small colony.
Thanksgiving 2020 is tied to the first part of the pilgrims’ experience here. One of hardship, loss, and grief. Already 260,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus. By the time, we take our seats at the dining table, we’ll have to acknowledge that we’ve lost almost as many fellow citizens to the pandemic that has raged for ten months as died in combat during WWII (1941-1945). * (And they called them The Greatest Generation.) How does anyone wrap their mind around the kind of loss we’re experiencing now? Grief will join us this Thanksgiving even if we haven’t (yet) been touched by the pandemic. It lurks just under the surface. A certain uneasiness about the future. Where will we be next month? Who will be sick then? Who will be gone?
Some part of us knows we haven’t built our shelters or come through the long, dark winter. Like the pilgrims, we are just as vulnerable as they were stepping into a new world fraught with danger. The future will require people of character, strength, and vision. Capable of great sacrifice and great faith. May we find them and may they be us.