November can be a new beginning of gratitude. I believe strongly in living a thankful life, but in a world rife with problems, living in gratitude takes inordinate discipline. So every day in November, I search for and acknowledge something in my life for which I am thankful. These may be things that are with me all the time—my marriage, being a mom, my love of books. But what I really search out is one moment of absolute perfection—brittle sunshine on a winter berry, a flash of cardinal wing in flight, my son’s gap-toothed grin ringed by a cocoa mustache. These easily-overlooked moments, to me, are Thanksgiving.
This year my children and I watched a Charlie Brown special about the Mayflower. It had been decades since I’d seen it, and I was surprised when Linus (always the professor) reminded me that almost all the passengers on the ship died, not in transit to America, but while within throwing distance of shore, looking for habitable land. I glanced toward my kids, thinking this was pretty harsh information. Surely any second now, Snoopy would start dancing happily next to Shroeder’s piano. Nope. Instead, Marcy was telling Peppermint Patty that only 20 adults survived to care for the 30 children, many now orphaned.
“Wow, Mom,” my daughter said. “That’s a lot of death and sadness.”
“Yes it was, honey.”
“It’s amazing that we remember this as a happy time, isn’t it?”
I thought a long time about my daughter’s comment. By the time Squanto wandered into the midst of the Plymouth settlement, their numbers and spirits had been decimated. This Patuxet Native American knew decimation; he had lost his own tribe, and he knew English due to his prior enslavement. But Squanto had found a new home and a new life with the Wampanoag tribe. The Chief, Masassoit, donated stores of food to the surviving Pilgrims, and Squanto taught the ragtag settlers how to use the land for food and healing.
The entire story is, to borrow my daughter’s word, amazing.
What would make a former European slave, whose people had been eliminated in part due to contact with European traders, offer aide to European settlers in need? I don’t know, but I suspect gratitude played a part. Squanto had suffered, had lost everything, and yet found new life with a new tribe. Could it be that his thankfulness helped heal the wounds of the past? The proof is in the figgy pudding.
The holidays are difficult for many people. We’re told this time of year is about families and cherished memories. For those who have no family, no past worth celebrating, the holidays become a testament to bitterness and failure. But they don’t have to be.
Make your own thanksgiving.
There is a moment of beauty in today. Find it.
There is a new tribe that will welcome you. Leave your heart open to it.
There is help to be found in unlikely places. Welcome it when it comes to you.
Maybe we’re not yet switching out the calendar on the kitchen wall, but I believe Thanksgiving is a better time to begin again. Not to make ourselves new, but to recognize the good that comes our way each and every day. To vigilantly watch for it. To acknowledge it. To welcome it inside for a warm cup of friendship tea and then send it on its way, confident that another moment of gratitude will be along any moment.
From my tribe to yours, have an amazing Thanksgiving.
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Angela Dove is an award-winning humor columnist and author of the true crime memoir, No Room for Doubt (Penguin/Berkley, 2009).