For many, Thanksgiving is often the “official” beginning of the holiday season. I heard my first Christmas song in a large store last week. Between now and Christmas day most families go into their fast-forward mode. But Thanksgiving allows us the time to stop, be thoughtful and to give thanks to the Creator of Life for our abundance of blessings. Often these include family, friends, church, health, work and many other things for which we are grateful.
Have you noticed, however, that the most intense moments of thankfulness are not always found in times of plenty, but more so when difficulties abound? As one commentator noted: “There is still so much more to be thankful for when gratitude is not for something but in something. It was that same sense of gratitude that led Abraham Lincoln to formally establish the first Thanksgiving Day in the midst of a national civil war, when the list of casualties seemed to have no end and the very nation struggled for survival.”
Perhaps in your own life, right now, there is intense difficulty as you are experiencing your own personal struggle and maybe find this coming holiday and holiday season to be difficult. Perhaps you ask: “Why should I be thankful this day? These three answers may be reason enough: 1. If we are not thankful we must learn to be thankful or we become bitter. 2. If we are not thankful we must learn to be thankful or we will become discouraged. 3. If we are not thankful we must learn to be thankful or we will grow arrogant and self-satisfied.” (sermon.com)
Most of us have been born in this country and we are thankful for that even as we live in tension about our leadership and direction we are taking as a nation. Regardless of all that, we are still very fortunate to live in this country. We really do live in the land of plenty and sometimes we forget that. Sometimes we forget that there are people in the world who don’t have even half of what we have, and we still want more. Too often we take our riches for granted and aren’t aware of all that we have. Perhaps that’s why thanksgiving is more real when difficulties are present and that thanksgiving comes out of abundant rather than a scarce sense of being blessed. Yes, there is still so much more to be thankful for, when gratitude is not for something but for in something.
Over the years I have become more and more aware of the growing number of people in other countries who desire a better life for themselves and their children. I became more aware of the issues of why people leave their homes when I moved to the Southwest over 12 years ago. But, moving to Las Cruces eight months ago has certainly opened my eyes to the reality of living so close to the border of another country.
Now, on this Thanksgiving Sunday, I find it ironic when I think about the first wave of migrants coming to this land – the Pilgrims’ journey to the new world – and think of how they left their homes in hope of freedom from the old persecutions for a new world and a new life. Things haven’t changed all that much over the centuries in that way, have they? Immigrants coming to the United States today from various places around the globe are also pilgrims as they leave their homes and country behind in hopes of freedom from the old persecutions for a new world and a new life.
Except for the indigenous people who were here and greeted the pilgrims, we are all from “away”. My father was first generation Italian-American. His father, Alexander, and his parents and siblings came to America in the 1800s. They were not coming because of persecution, but because they felt they had something to contribute to the growing, industrializing world of woolen mills in New England. They landed in Rhode Island and set up shop – so to speak – and developed the Falls Yarn Mill complex. As an endnote to this part of the story, the mill existed until sometime in the 1980s when most of the textile mills from New England moved south in cost-saving efforts. The mill building still stands and has been repurposed into a building that houses a restaurant and a few shops.
So, when I compare this story to those seeking asylum today I realize that my father’s family’s passage into a new world has a very different texture to it. But the reality is that we are all from away and it is good for us to know how we got here. But what I can’t understand is how appalling asylum seekers are being treated.
I came across the following poem this week that I think highlights the reasons why people are compelled to leave their homes and their countries over the past several years. This poem is not written by a person seeking asylum from South America, it is written by Warsan Shire who is a British-Somali poet and is entitled Home. It is gritty and difficult in its context.
no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark. you only run for the border when you see the whole city running as well. your neighbours running faster than you, the boy you went to school with who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory is holding a gun bigger than his body, you only leave home when home won’t let you stay.
no one would leave home unless home chased you, fire under feet, hot blood in your belly.
it’s not something you ever thought about doing, and so when you did – you carried the anthem under your breath, waiting until the airport toilet to tear up the passport and swallow, each mouthful of paper making it clear that you would not be going back.
you have to understand, no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.
who would choose to spend days and nights in the stomach of a truck unless the miles travelled meant something more than journey.
no one would choose to crawl under fences, be beaten until your shadow leaves you, raped, then drowned, forced to the bottom of the boat because you are darker, be sold, starved, shot at the border like a sick animal, be pitied, lose your name, lose your family, make a refugee camp a home for a year or two or ten, stripped and searched, find prison everywhere and if you survive and you are greeted on the other side with go home blacks, refugees dirty immigrants, asylum seekers sucking our country dry of milk, dark, with their hands out smell strange, savage – look what they’ve done to their own countries, what will they do to ours?
the dirty looks in the street softer than a limb torn off, the indignity of everyday life more tender than fourteen men who look like your father, between your legs, insults easier to swallow than rubble, than your child’s body in pieces – for now, forget about pride your survival is more important.
i want to go home, but home is the mouth of a shark home is the barrel of the gun and no one would leave home unless home chased you to the shore unless home tells you to leave what you could not behind, even if it was human.
no one leaves home until home is a damp voice in your ear saying leave, run now, i don’t know what i’ve become.
This is a stark and difficult poem that gives us a glimpse into reasons for fleeing to another world. And in this poem and in the caravan of thousands of people heading this way is the fact that hope is housed in many hearts.
And we hear of the struggles of the DACA dreamers and I close with this prayer. A Prayer for DACA Dreamers Most Holy God, in your word we read so many stories about the ones you have protected as they left home in search of a better life. Your servant Ruth said, “Your people will be my people, your God, my God.” You loved her and found a place for her in Israel. Scripture inspires us to strive for greater hospitality to the poor, the weak and strangers.
You have blessed us with dreamers who arrived here as children and today seek a way to make their contribution to our common life. We pray for them now. We pray that they will be allowed to work, study and live in safety. We pray that those in authority may turn away from the demons of prejudice, fear and scarcity, that they will set their hearts on acts of mercy. We pray that you will give us vision and inspire our concrete actions as we seek to realize our goal of liberty and justice for all. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.” Malcolm Clemens Young, Dean of Grace Cathedral
Copyright DMC 2018