Giving Thanks for Taking by Giving

An American friend today emailed me some of his favorite ‘Thanksgiving’ anecdotes.  And I in turn sent him one of mine.  And then I thought maybe I should share it on my blog too — it might resonate with others as it has with me.  

This happened when I was living in Washington D.C.  This is one city, that during the holidays, Christmas, Thanksgiving etc. becomes a ghost town.  Everyone clears out.  I had neighbors, women who retired from the State Department, and had lived three-fourths of their lives in D.C., who would say “I’m going home for Thanksgiving,” and then leave for New York State, or Ohio or wherever it was that they were born and raised.

In the end there would only be a motley handful of us, foreigners from various countries, left behind in D.C. for the holidays.   This particular Thanksgiving, couple I knew, who lived in Virginia, who I’ll call the Williams, invited a group of us to their house for Thanksgiving.  The Williams themselves were quite a culturally diverse family: Mr. Williams was third generation Carribean American.  One of their son’s had married a woman from Venezuela and the other one had married an Irish-American woman.  Their meals too were always a wonderful amalgamation of foods and flavors from all these cultures.  And Mr. Williams was a loud, jovial and entertaining personality.

So there we were sitting around, drinking punch and having Mr. Williams entertain us in the living room, while Mrs. Williams was getting the meal ready, when I suggested that a couple of us go into the kitchen and help out.  Mr. Williams said, “No I think it is all pretty much ready.  Just needs to go into the micro-wave.”  Then he called out to his wife, “Honey, should I come help you?”  And the response came back loud and irate, “You can come help me only if you are a guest in this house.  But if you live here, then don’t think of it as help.  Just do it!” 

We were all embarrassed for a minute.  And a few of us forced a laugh and rushed to help her.   Later on I thought about that incident many times.  Of course there is the gender role irony in here that Mrs. William I thought had responded to so aptly!  But there is more.  The question of what it means to belong.  What is it that makes us belong to a place, to a community, to whatever it is that we call home? 

Gratitude (since that’s what Thanksgiving is supposed to be about) is about receiving.  But belonging is about doing without being asked to do something. We do because we are obliged to.  Where even expecting gratitude would be ridiculous.  Belonging to a place or a community, is about doing because we belong.   I put that in context of this earth that we so ravage.  Do we keep giving thanks because the earth provides us with, what we’d like to consider, as this unlimited bounty — food, resources etc. that we plunder.  Or do we say,  — No this is home.  This is where I belong.  I need to care about how I take from the Earth, how much I take and how I live on it.  Because it is not unlimited, and it is my responsibility to do for the earth — not the earth’s obligation to give to me.

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  1. Rita,

    I appreciate your turning around this “Thanksgiving for receiving” by reminding us that we belong to the earth, its animate and inanimate beings, which inspires/”obligies” us to offer something simply because we belong to all.

    I am offering an Antonio Machado poem which places us in this larger view of community.

    The Wind One Brilliant Day

    The wind, one brilliant day, called
    to my soul with an odor of jasmine.

    “In return for the odor of my jasmine,
    I’d like all the odor of your roses.”

    “I have no roses; all the flowers
    in my garden are dead.”

    “Well then, I’ll take the withered petals
    and the yellow leaves and the waters of the fountain.”

    the wind left. And I wept. And I said to myself:
    “What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?”

    Antonio Machado- Translated by Robert Bly

    Sid Jordan

    • Rita Banerji

       /  November 28, 2011

      Thank you Sid Jordan, for this beautiful poem by Bly. That’s exactly it!

  2. Thanks for this Thanksgiving story. My daughter, Melanie, told me about reading this story on your Blog during our Thanksgiving Celebration. Before we began our meal, each person in the famaly took moment to say what he/she was thankful for. One thing Melanie mentioned was the gift of knowing some wonderful people in our lives. The name Rita Banerji was mentioned. We have never met you in person, but your example is a blessing to us all.

    • Rita Banerji

       /  November 28, 2011

      And I too am thankful, that technology (the internet) has found me friends who I can relate to and communicate with better than with some people I meet in the flesh!!


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