“Family.” People coming together who you don’t normally see. Turkey. Cranberry jelly that no one likes. Football.
The children were asked to think about what this upcoming holiday really means. We sat with pens and pencils poised above lined paper and looked at snippets of poetry from years and centuries past, at what this holiday is about, at the points where we connect to it.
I underlined in red the key concepts that spoke to me, and which I, as teacher, could direct my diligent creative students into their own musings.
A time of remembrance and return…celebration of abundance…sustenance and love…family gathering.
Shared tradition of two cultures, a peaceful celebration between two groups, the core message of acceptance and commonality.
When I mentioned this idea of acceptance, I mentioned, “Has anyone ever felt like they don’t belong?” All hands in my little group went up. Vigorous nods, affirming. I know that feeling. We all know what it feels like not to belong, and yet we still strive, yearn, try to fit in somewhere, anywhere.
So fierce is that need to be part of something, to matter, that sometimes we compromise who we are at the core just to feel for a minute like we have a place. We want to be needed, welcomed, loved.
And then our learning meandered on to look at what it means to be American and we read Langston Hughes’ poem, “Let America be America Again.”
For me, Thanksgiving is so incredible special because it is the one time of the year when every American, regardless of ethnicity, race or religion, is giving thanks and celebrating gratitude. We are united as a nation and as a people, an amalgamation of stories and origins to come together and create one wonderful place where everyone is accepted (I hope).
Except that isn’t really the true storyline. It’s a fiction we tell and retell every year around this time because it makes for a nice national pastime. We do not all really belong; we don’t all feel like we fit in.
So what is this holiday about?
“The power of a homecoming,” as Bruce Weigl’s poem “Home,” depicts? A place where we think we are so glad to have left and yet when we come back, we realize how inextricably we are connected to our origin?
I read this sentence and loved it but by then, the kids were already fiercely writing, spinning their own stories. “Of all the qualities of Thanksgiving, the power to draw people together is among its most sustaining.”
Which makes this holiday a celebration of community, actually, “the common table” in Charles Reznikoff’s poem, “Te Deum.”
When my children were little, we brought foods from our own heritages to a community feast in the front hall of the school and all the parents, aunts, siblings and grandparents gathered with the classes to taste a bit of every tradition that made up our school. We celebrated with matzoh ball soup and empanadas, curry and lasagna.
This is a common theme in my life and in my writing, the notion that we are all the same at the core, and an appreciation for identity across cultures so that we can share this sense of individuality and respect one another for the ways we are different.
I feel it in my bones. I am very deeply Jewish and I love that about the tradition I was born into, but I also love equally well the richness of cultures I have been fortunate enough to learn about and share in. My travels in India, in Israel, in Bali, my visits to churches and mosques and other types of synagogues and community centers where religion is not quite the language.
We are all the same, friends. We all live and breathe, awaken each morning and slide into sleep each night. We spiral into anxiety and fear just as much as the next person, thinking we don’t belong when really no one belongs anywhere and so we all belong everywhere we choose to be.
Let the story of this Thanksgiving be one of true gratitude, for wherever we are in this day and moment, and a celebration of the richness around us all, no matter how little or how much we have.