Giving Thanks: Peace, Food, Gratitude

I’m still working through the hefty tome of Jim Thorpe’s biography. It is so much more than an athlete’s personal story. It is an education about the Native people in the US, so missing from my public-school history curricula. I do hope that has improved in the many decades since I sat through grade school. I knew a little something about the residential schools that Indian kids were forcibly railroaded into, whose design was in effect to “whitewash,” them, to remove them from family and community and train culture, ritual, tradition, ethnic identity and pride out of them, making them into eligible candidates for citizenship in a land that had always been theirs. Young Jim’s school years were bleak, punctuated by the death of his beloved twin brother when he was nine. A whole generation of attachment trauma and neglect was but one of the many devastating impacts of the residential schools, not to mention the physical abuse that was routine. 

Thorpe was not the only extraordinarily gifted Native athlete. There were many. And the extensive story of exploitation of young athletes was news to me. I have long heard of Pop Warner as the umbrella football counterpart to Little League Baseball in the US. I had no idea that Pop was a real person who coached at Carlisle, the Indian school the Thorpe kids attended. He was much more than a coach, and was later a self-interested accomplice in Jim’s being stripped of his Olympic medals. 

Apparently collegiate sports were a money maker for schools and colleges. The money of course not going to the players. And although young Jim got launched  not only in track but in baseball, football and even basketball, a lot of white middlemen profited along the way off of the backs of Jim and others. The story is  bitter-sweet, to say the least. 

And Jim’s lifelong travails with alcohol were similarly not unique. Where Europeans had a millennia long experience and tolerance for alcohol with Italy and France having some of the lowest rates of alcoholism in the world, Native people were quite the opposite. “Fire water” was new to them, introduced by the white colonial settlers. So where they had plenty of and increasing pain to medicate away, their organisms were not accustomed, and rates of alcoholism soared disproportionally, and contributed to both tragedy and stereotypes.  

All of these images jade my vision as we approach the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday here next week, a mythical celebration of peace, white and Native friendship and harmony. Oy vey. The happy scenes of pilgrims and Indians rather turn my stomach. 

Food 

My agony with eating disorders began early, so of course Thanksgiving was always a dreaded nightmare. It is the great American eating holiday, as far as I was always concerned, a festival of what seemed like gluttony to me, an abundance of foods that I did not even like under any circumstances. And the day was so food centric that it was pretty hard to escape the watchful eyes of my parents. I found it ironic that although I was somehow invisible in my slowly wasting away in plain sight, into a 79 pound (5.6 stone) skeleton, what I ate or did not eat was scrutinized with eagle eyes. At the Thanksgiving table I felt like a trapped prey animal. And not being a football family of course, we were all pretty much glued around the table until it was finally over. 

Like many immigrants our family’s relationship to American holidays was ambivalent. They were clearly not ours, but there was such a societal expectation to do something in the way of the national ritual. When I got to about 9, we moved back to California again. There we had a distant cousin who had an American wife, Aunt Selma. Aunt Selma cooked turkey and sweet potatoes, and made pumpkin pies: all things completely alien to us. I don’t remember anything but the feelings: dread, nauseous anxiety and a desperate wish to flee.  

I had the good fortune to partner with someone who did not have strong feelings about Thanksgiving. He has never been attached to observing the holiday in a particular or traditional way. We enjoy a day off, with whatever menu we might desire. I have, however, always loved the day after Thanksgiving, which in this country has evolved into black Friday, the great American shopping holiday. We chose that day to get married in 1993. It is a semi-holiday, everything is open ad most people are off. Seemed like a good day. I do look forward to it, although the date changes from year to year. That is a day when it is easy for me to feel blessed, and grateful. 

Gratitude 

The gratitude part of Thanksgiving is often lost in the eating and consumerism. And gratitude is infinitely important to me, not only on this but on every day of the year. So often in the household of trauma and neglect, where being seen and known are sorely and tragically missing experiences, there is a gnawing poverty of acknowledgement, let alone appreciation. In my work with couples and parents, everyone really, including myself, I try to instill and install appreciation as ritual and a staple of daily life, like air and water and food. I take pleasure in acknowledging and thanking the often invisible, customer service, tech support and delivery people, that often slip unappreciated into taken for granted oblivion. Written reviews and cash are of course generally well appreciated, but even the often-missing experience of simple notice, has great meaning. 

I know for myself, with my age-old expectation of being invisible, unheard, overlooked, forgotten, I would find it dazzling to be remembered, tracked and even appreciated. It is worth having a day devoted to that, although the gratitude is often somehow left out of Thanksgiving tradition. I always say, I don’t need a special day for it, but I am also all for including it in a day that is nominally about being thankful.  

For those observing the Thanksgiving holiday, I wish you true interpersonal harmony. Let us remember and honor the people whose precious land this was. Let us remember and appreciate those who grow and harvest this food, whatever it is we choose to eat, and of course those who prepare and cook it. And let us strive for peace in homes and families, and in the streets, and in this painfully troubled world of ours. Happy Thanksgiving. 

Today’s song:

 

“Sociostasis”: Words, Husbands, Attachment

I do love words. I asked my husband, does everyone read books with a massive dictionary at their elbow like I do? I am fairly literate, but I don’t want an interesting new one to get by me.  He usually knows them all, so he doesn’t need to, but he

Read More »

Tailwinds: Attachment, Winds, In Loving Memory

What do Arthur Ashe, Tiger Woods, Serena and Venus Williams, Jackie Robinson, Robert McFerrin Sr., Raven Wilkinson, and Misty Copeland have in common? No this is not a joke or a trick question. All are objects of great admiration of mine, not only because of their brilliance, but because all

Read More »

On Service: Altruism, Neglect,  Love

I happened to catch an interview the other day with US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. I had heard him before but I was in the car, and there was nothing else on right then. He wrote a book not long ago about the “epidemic of loneliness” in this country, and

Read More »

Signup to my Mailing List