As has become his wont, with the approval of his employer, Charles Blow feels compelled to provide readers with their daily dose of our awfulness so that this Thanksgiving, no one will be without a heaping helping of misery on their plate.
When I was a child, Thanksgiving was simple. It was about turkey and dressing, love and laughter, a time for the family to gather around a feast and be thankful for the year that had passed and be hopeful for the year to come.
In school, the story we learned was simple, too: Pilgrims and Native Americans came together to give thanks.
Same with me. It was a wonderful secular holiday, celebrating love, family and brotherhood. It was the moment to reflect on the bounty we enjoyed and to do something too rarely done. Give thanks.
So, let us correct that.
Why? Why do you obsess over misery? We all grew up, learned that history was somewhat more complicated than what we were told in nursery school. You’re not the only person who came to the epiphany that people aren’t the good version of cartoon characters. Then again, they’re not just the evil version either, a point that constantly eludes you in your retelling of stories to show how awful the white European colonizers were.
Just 16 years after the Wampanoag shared that meal, they were massacred.
This was just one of the earliest episodes in which settlers and colonists did something horrible to the natives. There would be other massacres and many wars.
There’s an older woman in my life, we’ll call her my mother-in-law, who can manage to dredge up every wrong done to her going back to the moment of her birth at the drop of a hat. She’s not wrong, even if her characterizations are from her perspective and others have somewhat different recollections or more benign characterizations for her recalled atrocities.
No one wants to be around her when she does this. It’s not that she’s necessarily wrong, but no one wants to wallow in her complaints over and over. The point isn’t to forget history, or deny it. The point is to move forward, to more positive and beneficial uses of our lives.
We can remember the past and still take the best from it and use that to make the future better than the past. But you’re not one to let it go so easily, are you Charles? You have pain to inflict, like the sadist who rationalizes the pleasure he gets from whipping others. And this is your time, when the guilt-ridden sit at your knee, sucking in the misery you dump on them and thanking you for each sting of your lash.
Whether Blow’s history lesson is accurate, or sufficient, is immaterial. There are few people above the age of 13 unaware that the colonization of the New World wasn’t what we were taught in kindergarten.
I spent most of my life believing a gauzy, kindergarten version of Thanksgiving, thinking only of feasts and family, turkey and dressing.
I was blind, willfully ignorant, I suppose, to the bloodier side of the Thanksgiving story, to the more honest side of it.
I doubt this, Charles. I suspect you knew, as did most modestly educated folks, that there was a bloodier side, but you, like most of us, rose above it to recognize that we were a better society by taking a day to give thanks for our bounty and celebrating love, family and brotherhood. You, unlike most of us, realized the worthlessness of spending our day wallowing in misery of what people hundreds of years ago did wrong, as if it’s a virtue.
But I’ve come to believe that is how America would have it if it had its druthers: We would be blissfully blind, living in a soft world bleached of hard truth. I can no longer abide that.
You’ve gone from a “gauzy, kindergarten version of Thanksgiving” to a college sophomore’s outraged version. I believe that America would rather appreciate the magnificent abundance we enjoy than spend our life hating ourselves for past transgressions, not because the past didn’t happen, but because there is no better future if we can’t move forward.
Come, Charles. Join me for a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat and learn the adult version, where we remember hard truth but overcome it to celebrate the good of this day and show our appreciation for the blessings we enjoy rather than doom our existence to idealized misery. Of course, you’ll have to sit at the table with my mother-in-law until you grow up and the rest of us can abide you.