I like to think that Thanksgiving was inspired by Sukkot, that the Pilgrims read the Bible and endeavored to weave its values and ideas into the fabric of their lives here in this hemisphere.
That idea of welcoming strangers and their customs and of studying the stars in the sky above and the produce of and from the soil.
So, I accept Thanksgiving in that spirit of generosity and the dream of the founder of our colony, Roger Williams, who created the concept of “soul liberty” with a total separation of church from state (until 1954, when the repressive and political phrase “under God” was added, rather cynically, to our Pledge of Alliance to separate our pursuit of personal happiness from Communist Russia).
Well, this Thanksgiving we will gather in the nation’s capital, D.C. (District of Columbia, named for Christopher Columbus … or perhaps the pigeon Columbus the Dove) with our trio of children and their offspring of cousins/our grandchildren.
Before that great event, I plan on a visit to our RISD Museum, to view yet again the small painting of Roger Williams greeting, from the prow of his rowboat, the canoe of the Narragansett tribe, with a bird as a symbolic companion creature.
I know that the truth and reality of that era is deep and complex, but I cling to that anchor of hope that Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Thanksgiving can share the spotlight and grandeur of hospitality and good will and cordiality. Instead of merely airing their antagonisms.
The Jeffersonian phrase “the pursuit of happiness” was originally the rejection of the privilege of the first-born, the primogeniture rights to the land itself. He changed it from the “pursuit of property” to the more vague, but also poetic, “the pursuit of happiness” – whatever that might mean or come to mean.
It’s more elusive as well, like a merry-go-round.
My current word-hatred is the ad-induced anxiety of “Hurry!” That is the (perhaps puzzling) preview of my toast (if I am asked to make one) when we convene at the regal table of our hostess, my daughter Lily Dalia Samin, and bless you all here in Rhode Island and in Israel and among the isles and languages and landscapes and oceans of our troubled planet.
MIKE FINK (firstname.lastname@example.org) teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design.