Maarsii. Nakurmiik. Miigwech. Thank you. Merci. Dhanyavad. Shukriya. Shukran. Danke. Tashakkor. Asante. Na gode.
Most languages and local dialects the world over have an expression for “thanks”. Saying “Thank you” or “Thanks” is now almost intuitive, whether to a service provider, a friend or family member offering something or to a stranger helping us through an act of kindness. It is almost reactive.
Gratitude, on the other hand is a heartfelt and mindful – almost a meditative, deliberate and reflective response arising from the heart. Gratitude helps us to rise beyond our own self.
Thanksgiving is an event centred on gratitude. It is a celebration of life. It is one of my favourite annual events and featured regularly in my earlier blogs. However, for me this Thanksgiving is tinged with sadness.
Until recently, one had unquestioningly subscribed to the stated narrative of the Pilgrims and “Native Americans” (in the US, or “First Nations”, here in Canada) coming together for their first ever Thanksgiving feast just about 400 years ago, possibly in 1621. Ostensibly, the Pilgrims and indigenous peoples buried their differences and feasted together over several days, enabling the former to express their gratitude to the locals who had helped them survive the previous winter by providing food in that time of scarcity.
My late uncle always quoted the adage that “History is written by the victors.” In his bestselling book The Inconvenient Indian, celebrated indigenous author Thomas King writes, “Most of us think that history is the past. It’s not. History is the stories we tell about the past. … but the stories are not just any stories. … the stories are about famous men and celebrated events.”
In light of the more recent revelations about those early settlers and the ongoing treatment of the indigenous peoples they subdued, one wonders what if anything, could the latter be grateful for. Dispossessed of not just their lands and way of life, they had to endure unimaginable anguish as terrified offspring were pulled out of their parents’ loving embrace, often never to be seen again.
In this extract from his poem Reconciliation, the Chief of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, R. Stacey LaForme writes:
“…. I sit here crying
I don’t know why
I didn’t know the children
I didn’t know the parents
But I knew their spirit
I knew their love
I know their loss …
… I did not know them
But the pain is so real, so personal
I feel it in my core, my heart, my spirit
I sit here crying and I am not ashamed
I will cry for them, and the many others like them
I will cry for you, I will cry for me
I’ll cry for the what could have been ….
… In time I will tell their story, I will educate society
So their memory is not lost to this world ….”
Nevertheless, this Thanksgiving I still feel able to express gratitude. For I believe that we live in a country where Canadians genuinely seek to learn about and redress the harm caused to others, to make this a more just, caring and gentle society.
The Dalai Lama states, “For a person who cherishes compassion and love, the practice of tolerance is essential, and for that, an enemy is indispensable. So, we should be grateful to our enemies, for it is they who can best help us develop a tranquil mind.” He adds, “When you practice gratefulness, there is a sense of respect towards others.”
Let us be grateful that we have this one life to celebrate one another and to leave this world a better place for our children and the ones who will come after them.
A safe, contemplative and Happy Thanksgiving!