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Chalk It Up to Being Thankful….

Often the discussions about Thanksgiving and the usual trite platitudes about what we are grateful for ring hollow to me. I don’t mean to be a downer but I’ve never participated easily in the contrived traditions of our society. I’m too much of a rebel for that.

But this year, Thanksgiving felt more authentic to me than it has in many years.

Our neighbors across the street, recent transplants from Indiana, invited us over to partake of their feast in the company of about 25 people we didn’t know. Some were friends from Indiana and their families, some worked for the Salvation Army, and there was even a mother and her two teens that had recently recovered through a program with the SA. I spent time talking to the son, a budding artist, about learning to express his life experiences artistically. His eyes, beneath the shock of multi-shaded dark hair, locked on me and I hoped that what I was telling him was truthful. In the midst of all the activity, our neighbors’ ever-smiling wheelchair-bound adult son served as centerpiece for the occasion. There was much to be grateful for in that house.

Afterwards, we all ambled across the street to see my latest “work of art”. It has become my own custom to create a sidewalk chalk rendering to commemorate the holiday in a way that represents perhaps the less considered meaning of the occasion. This year, at the suggestion of a friend, I drew my impression of the landing of the pilgrims at Plymouth. I was reminded that, while we are thankful for the good fortune that America has allowed many of us to enjoy in the 389 years since the Mayflower arrived, there was a population of people already here whose entire lives were displaced and replaced …

My misty, mythical Native American was drawn with the help of a big fluffy paint brush to create a soft, ethereal quality, almost spirit-like. That’s how I think of the “Indians” on that first Thanksgiving, cautiously but generously sharing their offerings in good faith that the arriving Europeans meant them no harm. Indeed, maybe that particular group didn’t, but on both sides would eventually arrive factions that had no such compassion.

Exhausted by their 2-month ordeal over the ferocious seas of the North Atlantic in late autumn, the pilgrims arrived and must have felt truly grateful for the show of kindness provided by the Indians. They showed us that even in our times of vulnerability we find the better part of ourselves and are willing to share what little we have.

But when things get better and we start feeling stronger again, we easily forget what it felt like to be sick and afraid. Our memories of compassion fade like layers of chalk…

The ship that we know as “America” today is being tossed about in a sea of uncertainty. Waves of religious tyranny are threatening to overtake us again, yet there is a spirit of respite in the earth and wind of our land, long forgotten perhaps… a deep generosity and abiding faith. It’s a faith few of us recognize anymore, but it stands watch over us always, allowing us to make our mistakes as we search for a better life, but ever willing to take us back when we return, hat in hand, to repent. It reminds us to be grateful and to share what we have.

This year, I am thankful for all of those who sacrificed for us to be here, including our fighting men and women overseas, but also for those who gave up their land and heritage to a brash, immature, population that will take centuries to develop spiritually enough to truly inherit this land…

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  1. Larry
    November 30, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    Ellen,

    Thank you for sharing part of your Thanksgiving with us. I really appreciate your use of chalk art to remind us that the gift our forefathers (and mothers!) sacrificed to give to is as fragile as your painting and must be renewed less it wash away from the tears of tyranny. The Pilgrims came to the new world so that we would have the opportunity to choose how and what to worship. Unfortunately, it is a gift that is all too often forgotten in the zeal to convert others to our beliefs. In our fear and suspicion of “others”, we forget that our desire to purge those we fear robs us of the very freedom our forbears struggled to gain for us.

    Happy Thankgiving

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