A Thanksgiving post by Dr. Matthew Mehan.
Nothing of this earthly world
is a wholly perfect thing,
but that does not exclude it
from our love and our thanksgiving.
There is a poem, somewhat forgotten, which I recommend reading this Thanksgiving. “The Courtship of Miles Standish” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow concerns the darkest and the brightest moments of the famed Pilgrims’ first years at Plymouth Rock. There are indian wars, a humorous and touching love triangle, and some beautiful moments that highlight why we ought to be thankful for those Katharine Lee Bates’ America the Beautiful describes like so:
“O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!”
Much has been said about the injustices perpetrated by *some* Pilgrim ancestors against the Native Americans, but it is important to filter these critiques out every so often and concentrate on the good. Gratitude requires we look purposefully to the virtues and merits of our religious, political, social, and, for a rare few, genetic Mayflower ancestors. One way to do this might be to read “The Courtship of Miles Standish” wherein we find a presentation of those stern yet impassioned Pilgrims that may stir us not to self-satisfied judgment against them, but to real love for their sacrifice and humanity as they sought a place in the world to freely love God and each other.
There are many touching and rousing scenes; here is but one. The Pilgrims give thanks as they face harsh weather and hostile territory, even as the Mayflower sails away, back to Europe.
Lost in the sound of the oars was the last farewell of the Pilgrims.
O strong hearts and true! not one went back in the Mayflower!
No, not one looked back, who had set his hand to this ploughing!
Soon were heard on board the shouts and songs of the sailors
Heaving the windlass round, and hoisting the ponderous anchor.
Then the yards were braced, and all sails set to the west-wind,
Blowing steady and strong; and the Mayflower sailed from the harbor,
Rounded the point of the Gurnet, and leaving far to the southward
Island and cape of sand, and the Field of the First Encounter,
Took the wind on her quarter, and stood for the open Atlantic,
Borne on the send of the sea, and the swelling hearts of the Pilgrims.
Long in silence they watched the receding sail of the vessel,
Much endeared to them all, as something living and human;
Then, as if filled with the spirit, and wrapt in a vision prophetic,
Baring his hoary head, the excellent Elder of Plymouth
Said, “Let us pray!’ and they prayed, and thanked the Lord and took courage.
You can read the whole poem here.
Have a happy Thanksgiving, and remember also that giving thanks is the fastest way to increase your zeal to do good, which is the great virtue against sadness. Worth remembering as the days darken, don’t you think?
And lest you think Thanksgiving a merely sectarian affair for Puritans, read this!