“Thanksgiving” means different things to different people. Some will be gathering with extended family, and others will be alone. Some believe the Pilgrim myth; others are aware of the Native American history; still others understand that all agrarian societies had some form of the feast/festival; and some are focused on “Black Friday.”
My younger son, a student at SUNY-Binghamton, also works in human services. He did a “double shift” today, and will do another tomorrow. He told me about a phone call he had today. A lady in crisis called his workplace, although she was not connected to its services. She lives alone with her pet cat. Two years ago, her adult son died around this time. She was feeling helpless and hopeless. She told my son about the hardships she had faced over the years.
After taking the time to hear her out, my son said that he was impressed: the average person could not possibly have survived the harsh experiences that she had. She had far more strength and survival skills than most people. Those comments changed the lady’s perception of herself, and gave her confidence that she could deal with this “holiday.”
As their conversation came to a close, the lady asked my boy if he was a priest? No. Well, maybe a monk? Nope, just an average person. I told him that, for the hour he spoke with her, he served as a priest or monk ….but not to get too big a head, because he had been talking to Jesus. (Though neither of us are “Christians,” we both know that to be true.)
The period from Thanksgiving to Christmas can be very hard for many people. It can bring up painful memories of loss. I think of a close friend who was murdered on November 22, 1978. I remember the frustration I felt, because although their identity was known, the group of men who killed him faced no legal consequences. And I think of other family and friends, who I used to share this season with, who have passed away.
Earlier this week, I spent some time preparing for a sweat lodge ceremony. In decades past, I could gather the rocks, firewood, and water in a couple of hours. But at my age, it takes me a heck of a lot longer. But I’m thankful for that, because I also have more time to enjoy all that goes into the preparation.
I was thankful for the oak, the maple, the hickory, the beech, the white pine, the blue spruce, and the locus trees that provided the wood. I was thankful for the grey flint, the white flint, and the red sandstones I found. I was thankful for the water I brought down, especially for that which served as drinking water. I was thankful for the bag of tobacco, the sage, and the sweet grass that I made into a braid.
I always enjoy filling the birdfeeders, and feeding the fish in the pond near my sweat lodge. I enjoyed watching a couple of my dogs running circles around me, even when one snatched one of the antlers out of the lodge and made a game out of returning it to me.
Two of my friends stopped over in the late afternoon for the ceremony. A week earlier, they had come over in the early morning, so that we could weave the stones and water together in a ceremony while the sun rose. This time, the sun had already begun to set; we were thankful for the warmth of the fire as the stones were heated. And, to be honest, I was thankful for having the young man there to carry the heated rocks to the lodge, as I had gathered quite a few large ones.
During the ceremony, I focused upon some of the things that Onondaga Chief Paul Waterman had taught me, way back when I was the young man. To be thankful for the earth, the stones, the water, the air, the plants, the animals, and for our family and friends. To be thankful for everything, including what we think of as good, bad, and everything in between. To be thankful for having had the opportunity to know and love those who we miss and mourn today. To be thankful for this moment in time, this day, and our chance to participate in this ceremony we call “life.”