I recently spent a day at the Jewish Museum in Berlin. It was unforgettable, horrific, and ultimately life-affirming. There were thousands of displays of personal effects—pocket watches, paintings, brushes, knives—items that survived the Holocaust and their owners. A placard told a brief story of the people who owned these items. Every single placard gave a date or estimate of when the person was murdered. I was initially surprised by the frequent use of the word “murdered.” It kept coming up. It seemed like it was on every display. More and more. Then it was the only word. I wondered why they couldn’t just say that they “died.” Just then the purpose of that word finally filled my obtuse, fat, stubborn, American brain: they didn’t just die. The point was that they were most certainly murdered. I was taken aback by the notion that at 38-years-old I am still very stupid. I knew I was dumb, but wow am I also a stupid.
I’ve come to the realization that I want “give thanks” this year, but I want to state that I knowingly reap the rewards of murder, slavery and of the nation-building over the nations my ancestors destroyed. We mourn the dead, but never all of the dead. We still root for greedy skeletons. My team—The Visitors—still ignore the mass graves of the Home Team. I am the result of sad, unearned victory. I have some pretty awful ancestors and some rotten, way-too-recent relatives I wish I could shake from my tree. But they’re there, in my face, and I want to learn from their lives, their crimes and their mistakes. I feel fully obligated to correct their silence.
Thanksgiving should be a day of remembrance AND dialogue, along with our appreciation of who we have surrounding us every day. Many Canadian friends of mine offer a version of this during their Thanksgiving in October. If we can raise a spoonful of mashed potatoes to the too-much-shit we own, can’t we own up to our past in a way that somehow heals? Can we not also raise our thoughts to the millions of families who were forcibly removed from their lands so we could over-eat, over-buy and over-forget? Couldn’t this help us stop doing these excessive things?
We shouldn’t forget the millions of people and lives that were stolen and murdered to acquire this country. Their bodies could overflow arenas and stadiums. They could dam our rivers. We may not have been the actual murderers, but we are killing their memory and spirit if we don’t CONSIDER AND DISCUSS them today, and by not doing so we are potentially sowing the seeds of repetition. I am grateful for the right to express myself, my anger and my sadness for these things and those people. I see the paradox.
What would make me most grateful is if everyone who thinks pilgrims or Columbus were adventurous heroes would read the better accounts of history. It’s time to get repulsed and mortified. It’s time for less fiction, more honesty, and way less turkey. It’s time to craft new, peace-based, inclusive traditions. It’s okay to say that the past mostly sucked for a lot of people and that we don’t want to suck in the future.
Why is this dinner only once a year when there is so much work to be done? My concept of Thanksgiving is a group effort pot-luck EVERY MONTH. I often call them Kitchen Sessions. Bring your best dish. Same day each month. My house. Your house. White House. Bring a hungry friend and a good story. Discussions about the past and the future are mandatory. And so is lots of dip. Who’s with me? I am very serious.
As Jake (Andy Samberg) says on the hilarious show Brooklyn 99, “the pilgrims were murderers and turkeys taste like napkins.” But enchiladas, lasagna and phở are wonderful.
I am so sorry for many of the methods that were used to get us here, but I am also very grateful that you are alive at the same time I am. I see the paradox and I hope to discuss it over dinner sometime. Truly.