I have five non-biological siblings: men and women with whom I’ve spent the most formative years of my life building trust, defending each other, looking out for each other, coming to each others’ sides in times of need. I have only one biological sibling.
He and I can draw blood over cranberry sauce.
I don’t write about him much. He is a highly successful and influential marine biologist now. Like the children of Kronos, we each took up a distinct territory: he got the sea, I got the land. It was the best way to keep us from doing further harm to each other.
But this Thanksgiving we will sit down and have a meal together. Right now, he and I share a common loved one* who is facing down a big scary medical issue in the next few weeks. It’s time to circle the wagons, learn what we can from each other, and help everyone get through this.
At the same time that we are figuring out how to reconcile our differences and move forward, I receive an email from a vitriolic reader who self-describes herself as an “old woman.” She is outraged about the election of Trump. After reading my last post about the elections, she is disgusted that I would continue to love my neighbors in spite of their choices at the polls. She accuses me, among other things, of being a “suck up” in my desire to hold family and community together.
She’s not alone. I’ve received more criticisms in the past week from fellow left-centric readers than I have Trump voters. They’re angry. They find the hatred of fellow human beings and patent disregard for Mother Earth preached by the Trump campaign as unacceptable. They attribute these reprehensible traits to every American who voted for him. They consider this a line in the sand. Some of you are even cancelling Thanksgiving so as not to face relatives who voted for the billionaire.
But folks, take a cursory tour of spiritual teachings and geopolitical history. Answering hatred with hatred doesn’t work. It’s bad for the soul, bad for peace, bad for the planet. …And really bad for digestion.
Trump’s election, for the majority of Americans (because let’s call it like it is: he did not win the popular vote) represents a great big blight on our country and our planet.
But any farmer knows that blights happen when there are bigger problems that are not being addressed. A blight is a symptom that points to an underlying problem.
And we’ve got problems. We’ve got problems with fear, mistrust, and anger.
We’ve had them before.
It started with the first Thanksgiving**, one of the greatest diplomatic moves in the history of this country. The Puritans and the Wampanoags had signed a peace treaty a few months prior, and the original Plimoth settlement benefited greatly from the alliance. But there was still a lot of mistrust. That feast day was met with criticisms from both sides. The two communities weren’t exactly warm and fuzzy with each other. But they knew they had to work together. They had to push through the differences. They needed to break bread together.
Thanksgiving remained a New England tradition, but it wasn’t a national holiday until a mother of five, Sarah Hale, made a campaign of it, badgering five different presidents and coordinating a national campaign of (primarily) women who spoke out about the need to declare it an official national holiday, about the need to pull the country together for at least one day each year. And then finally, in 1863, Abraham Lincoln, in the depths of the civil war, where brother was fighting brother, realized how very much it mattered when trying to hold a divided nation together.
We look at this holiday now as an opportunity to express gratitude for the good things in our lives. And while the expression of gratitude is an important act for overall spiritual health and happiness, there is a pragmatic benefit. When we sit down at the table with the people we love as well as the people we are angry at, and we share that phenomenon as a nation, we are taking time to acknowledge all the things that matter to us: nourishing food, family, friends, community, the health that lets us partake in the repast. We have these things in common. And whether we are divided in our families, or divided as a nation, it is an opportunity to acknowledge those things that matter most, and an expression of a mutual desire to work toward them.
Whether it is a brother and sister who fight over cranberry sauce, or a nation torn asunder over it’s future, we need to push that anger aside for a little while. We need to take a rest and break some bread and remember what we still have, and what matters most. After we’ve acknowledged those things, I’m confident there will once again be a nation of protestors and petitions that our new president will have to face down. I will be among them. We’re not going to make it through to better times without pushing through this pain. I’m certain my brother and I will also go back to fighting over the cranberry sauce, over gluten, vaccines, low fat diets, or who should set the table. Somehow, he and I just can’t know ourselves without those battles, either. But for now, we need to recognize that this day that softens our tempers matters more than ever. Please, everyone: Just shut up and eat.