311 years ago next month, Pilgrims, escaping persecution in their home country, landed in a new world after attempting to establish themselves elsewhere in the Old World.
Within the year, they were celebrating what we moderns consider the first Thanksgiving feast, a meal shared with the people with which they had signed a peace treaty and who had provided means of survival during the first brutal winter.
Crossing the ocean to find a world where they might be free to worship, they were driven by the promise of freedom.
Soon pressured by the same forces from which they had fled with the arrival of the Puritans, the Pilgrims found the challenges of a New World daunting. With Puritans bringing their own brand of religious intolerance and clashes with indigenous peoples breaking out around them, the Pilgrims soon because absorbed into a larger social network. In a way, they found what they were looking for when they were absorbed into the larger provence of Massachusetts. Along the way, they lost their unique identity, but not their faith. And, in their own way, they moderated the more fundamentalist traits of the predominating Puritans through their absorbtion into the greater whole.
Over the years, the story of the Pilgrims has been rebuilt, idealized, recalibrated for current events and has entered the realm of mythology and apocryphal narration.
Depending on our political stripe, we can draw varied conclusions from the story.
I would like to think that we can take important lessons from the idea of the search for freedom and the desire to cooperate with other, more divergent cultures and blend it with the idea that people should rankle against religious and social intolerance, but be ever mindful of being subsumed into a larger whole for the sake of pure commerce and expediency. The Pilgrims fought long odds in a desire to live and worship in their own fashion. Should we not aspire ourselves to allow others the same right to live the way that they wish, as long as they bring no harm to others?
Sadly, in these days of marginalization, a divided public and an increasingly shrill public discourse, we move further and further from the ideals of the first Thanksgiving.
I hope that we, as a people, stop and take a deep breath and reflect today on the principles of tolerance and the true meaning of freedom.
And forget about commercialism until at least after midnight tonight, at which point we can then struggle with the whole Christmas/commercialism paradigm.
May peace be with you and yours.