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.