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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

252: Nov 23, 2020 We Gather Together Even When We're Apart

This is a graceful and inspiring reflection from Brother Toby I received and thought I'd share it out. Toward the end of the reflection he has an excellent suggestion for us: "We have a custom here of asking everybody to come up with a bit of inspiration or prayer or grace before the Thanksgiving dinner — we can still do that! There is still time. Just ask everyone, wherever they are, to send their thoughts around."


- Brother Toby reflection

The Latin root for the word “fatigue” means “to make weary.” It makes me weary when narcissistic people clumsily try to become dictators. Benito Mussolini made me weary. Donald J. Trump makes me weary. I'm weary of my nation’s political leaders playing games as over 250,000 of our citizens have died from COVID-19, and the millions who suffer from their loss.

I'm tired of the incoming administration being blocked from mounting more effective campaigns against the pandemic, against the continuing destruction of the planet, against racism, and on and on. I'm tired of the lies, the misinformation, the corruption. But mostly right now I am tired from the realization that during this holiday season I will not be able to hug my family and friends. In six weeks I will be 90 years old. How many more opportunities will I have to enjoy these special times of year with those who mean so much to me?

I'm not whining — we get enough of that from the White House! I’m sharing the pain I feel for the first time at this special, and in my opinion sacred, time of year because I believe that you, my friends, are equally weary of all this! So what do we do? Well, a dictionary says that the opposite of fatigue is “freshness, vigor, activity, indefatigability.” Okay, let us give that a try.

Thanksgiving is the first event coming up. For most of my life a symbol of that day has been the first taste of a fruitcake that follows a recipe my mother said her French relatives had been using for 400 years. Truth be told, I have never been sure that some of the ingredients had been introduced into Europe 400 years ago — but that is a minor issue.

The fruitcake leads us back to a simpler time of life. Usually we have a giant fruitcake, which according to my mother's instructions, is carefully seasoned with apricot brandy for weeks. However, this year with the people we love spread all across the globe, we made a bunch of smaller fruitcakes to be sent out. I think that's one of the secrets: Keep everything simple and smaller but don't sacrifice the key element —love.

The “Holiday Season” begins with Thanksgiving. I am told that in many places young school children still do what we did 80 years ago — drawing pictures of pilgrims and sticking them up in the classroom windows. Often there is an indigenous person along with a turkey in something resembling a cranberry bush. A college friend of mine, who became a leader in a Pacific Northwest Tribe, rebelled against this when he found his own children doing it.

As I recall he expressed himself along these lines: “They want us to celebrate the coming of a bunch of Euro-supremacists who brought us 'savages' a so-called proper religion, stole our lands, and enslaved our people!” The pilgrims came out of the classroom windows.

So, what is the essence of Thanksgiving Day? All agrarian cultures had some type of autumn harvest festival. It was a time of giving thanks for having grown and put aside enough food for people to survive during the winter months. Our country's founders imagined that most of the citizens of the United States would be part of farm families. But then in the 19th century industrialization attracted, or forced, people to go to the cities. There were Thanksgiving days celebrated around the country at different times, with different customs. Sarah Josepha Hale started the campaign for a national day of Thanksgiving in 1827 as the strife between North and South was becoming obvious. In 1863 she was finally successful in getting President Abraham Lincoln to proclaim a national day of Thanksgiving.

As the 19th century moved on, commercial concerns became more and more prominent. President Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) was reported to have said “The business of America is business.” At times it seems the principal purpose of Thanksgiving, with its parades and games, is to be the beginning of Christmas shopping. A reaction to that attitude by a number of spiritual communities has been to make it a day for deeds of charity and economic justice. A young person here at Starcross remembers that her family began the day by taking warm clothes to homeless shelters.

So where are we now as we endure the COVID-19 pandemic? On Thursday many people will gather with friends and relatives to have an overly sumptuous meal, and that frightens our public health officials. When folks gathered together at Halloween spikes began to shoot upward in the pandemic. So in addition to wearing masks, keeping social distance, and washing our hands frequently, we have to face the sad reality that the prudent thing to do is not to gather friends and family this year, and not to cause people to travel.

So once again I ask what is the essence of Thanksgiving Day — or more specifically, Thanksgiving Day 2020? I think the answer is again — love.

Look, I think we ought to forget about the fancy meal when the majority of people we love are probably spread all around the world. I suggest that we share something else with each other. Something like “What are we thankful for?” How are we going to do that? I'm not a great one for ZOOMING, but that is one option if you are not separated from people by multiple time zones. Otherwise there is always time to send a note by email or even the Postal Service, which seems to be recovering nicely after the election fiasco.

We have a custom here of asking everybody to come up with a bit of inspiration or prayer or grace before the Thanksgiving dinner — we can still do that! There is still time. Just ask everyone, wherever they are, to send their thoughts around. Things like —

Reflecting on the year they have lived, what they are thankful for.

Simple prayers - like Thich Nhat Hanh’s: “In This Food I See Clearly, The Presence of the Entire Universe, Supporting My Existence.”

Poems - like something from the Emily Dickinson, Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver.

Or just simply telling each other why we are thankful for each other. This is the most important thing we can share.

(Carltwins Liam and Sean)

I won’t be able to do it this year, but usually when we are sharing the same table and the very poignant exchanges have been made, I change the tempo by reciting Robert Burn’s version of the 17th century Selkirk Poem,

Some hae meat and canna eat

And some canna eat that want it:

But we hae meat, and we can eat

Sae let the Lord be thankit.

I apologize to my fellow vegetarians. I tried to make some changes, but “tofu” just doesn't seem to fit into the poem.

May you have a loving and peaceful Thanksgiving Day.


Serving Food

In this food,

I see clearly the presence

of the entire universe

supporting my existence.

Contemplating Your Food

This plate of food,

so fragrant and appetizing,

also contains much suffering.

Beginning to Eat

With the first taste, I promise to offer joy.

With the second, I promise to help relieve

the suffering of others.

With the third, I promise to see others' joy as my own.

With the fourth, I promise to learn the way

of nonattachment and equanimity.

Finishing the Meal

The plate is empty.

My hunger is satisfied.

I vow to live

for the benefit of all beings.

- Thich Nhat Hanh


Céline Dion - Thankful

Sweet Baby James James Taylor

Joan Baez & Mary Chapin Carpenter sing "Catch the Wind"

- with love from david

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