Today you'll see plenty of Thanksgiving theme diaries. This one is mine - and yours, as a place to post your own gratitude messages.
Decry willful climate collapse, deadly codependency in the Middle East, the interminable plight of the transgendered, the perplexing rejection of the notion that helping others helps ourselves by so many of our own countrymen.
These things went on yesterday, go on today, will go on tomorrow.
I'm not here to post platitudes. Cities and countries are dying because of rising seas and dirty weather. We're discovering new and improved ways to slice and death each other into new targets of bullying, marginalization, prejudice and genocide even as we sweep the old ways of doing so out of sight under the Thanksgiving dinner table.
Oh, yes, the old genocides. Let's not forget how the First Nations view this particular hobby, especially the heavily-targeted ones like the Penobscot and the Narragansett who had to go, so that New England, cradle of American liberty, could arrive in earnest.
I'm not saying that to do a John Lennon-ish dig. Not exclusively, anyway, but to build up to the point - that a lot of what we are thankful for is that someone else, long ago, did the dirty work for us. Set the foundation of wood and stone, lime and blood, on which so many later things, dreadful and glorious, were built.
Another diary, currently on the rec list as of this writing, alludes to the JFK assassination and funeral procession. November 22nd. That's today. A host of Republicans owe the rise of a particularly devastating variety of conservatism to that murder, and the murder of RFK, MLK and a few others and how a shift to low-level almost-civil war long ago demoralized the American left, leaving blunted stumps - a few years of brilliance here and there - where a forest of legendary liberal giants grown old and tall should have been.
We've been in the wilderness for most of the time since Dallas. For me, all my life. For 71 days I coexisted on this planet with the living, breathing Robert F. Kennedy. I did not know him, nor he me, nor did I notice when he like his brother was cut down, yet again by a soft-minded crazy person with fortune and firearms on his side.
I shared oxygen in the same biosphere with Martin Luther King, Jr., for a whopping eight days. His slayer, James Earl Ray, had an even weaker resume than those of Oswald and Sirhan. His life, too, was going nowhere (good) fast. The only thing he ever did of consequence was ending a good man's life. Same as the other two.
I wonder.. what would life have been like had those assassinations never taken place? I don't know the factuals of life back then enough to work out all the nuances of that counter-factual alternate universe.... (more below)
One thing that I do imagine that would have changed is every single Presidential Administration. from 1963 forward. We might not have have Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, both Bushes, perhaps/perhaps not Clinton and even Obama as president.
Some say the great movements of history happen, and the great actors on the world stage are created by the occasion. If so, then we would have had the Great Society programs, Vietnam, Medicare, Medicaid, Affirmative Action, some type of Watergate scandal, detente, Camp David, several rounds of tax reform and tentative immigration reform, Star Wars, a happy ending to Reagan-ish brinkmanship and the Cold War, Gulf War, first indifference and then belated Dayton Accords to stop Bosnia, etc. etc. etc.
By that same token, perhaps the Separatists, regardless of leadership, could not hae been the least bit less genocidal, that New England - and the New America to follow - required blood in the mortar to be built.
Let that sink in: Are we fated, regardless of our particular historical path, to wallow in cold mud infested with the sins of the past, the cruelty of the present, and the will to do harm in the future?
No. I'm shaking my head as I write. Hell no.
We are not doomed. JFK, RFK and MLK were not fated to die. They died by the guns of the soft-minded stochastic terrorists of their day. They died because three nuts among three thousand aspirants if not more got their day. Someone's probably done the research on all the times these three men survived close calls - and threats the FBI, the Secret Service and other protectors intercepted first. Same as the men who served the people since - as President and otherwise - have outlasted the well-armed weak-willed among us since those dark, grave days.
We have lost so, so much to willful choices to do harm. We've been doing this as a country since before we called ourselves Americans. We have done this since before we had vocal chords to name ourselves human. We have chosen, gladly and often, to be inhumane... because we can.
And yet...we can choose the good.
We can choose to be cordial, to cooperate.
We can choose to turn the knife blade away, handle first to our colleagues, to give them tools to cut rope.
They and turn can choose to make knots, not to hang those that offend them for their poor choice of orientation, faith or skin pigmentation, but to cast nets.
Not nets to enslave but to feed from the bounty of the waters, and hold the gatherings from the land.
We can choose not to live past the capacity of the land and water to sustain us and our fellow creatures - for once the land and water are exhausted to death, we all die, our species and all our cousins.
So many lessons, hard-won, we have known them since before we could call ourselves human. And we choose to forget them, often. Eagerly. The blind willful optimism of the cheater, the bully, the scoundrel lurks in us, seeking the dark chance to cut corners and gain advantage. This is that slouching beast from Yeats' "The Second Coming". Ourselves.
We can choose to domesticate our contentions. Most of us do so - even most of the side of the country that looks back, looks side to side to be sure they are not in mixed company, and says aloud how good it is that three good men from the 1960s are dead.
And they still whisper such things. That's their choice.
Yet their legacy did not die. In many respects, the right that cheered the fall of the Kennedys and King was compelled to adjust their rhetoric and even their policies for a time. Many of their own heroes - Nixon and Reagan leap out right away - chose to carry on some (not all, hardly!) the work of the Kennedys and the King.
One reason was political reality. Maybe Nixon had to support affirmative action (and even float a national health care plan) to counter the appearance that the Republican Party had been taken over by Jim Crow refugees, thanks to his Southern Strategy. Reagan, for his part, was sincere about immigration reform... he saw it for what it was... a great outreach that was both the right thing and the right politics and it helped Republicans a great deal with Hispanics. If only, only... the GOPers are saying now.
Alas, progress (even for our right wing brethren) is not inevitable. As I said earlier about fate: Hell, no. But we can choose to be asses, too. Boy, did they.
Later Republicans would choose to make a mockery of this interpretation, insisting that because of power they made the reality, the rest of us just watched from the sidelines and blogged about it. No one told the GOPers that "Triumph of the Will"-ish epistemology went out with the people that infamous movie was about. We've been snickering at them ever since. Or would, if their self-imposed divorce from reality was funny, not destructive.
We have to endure the bad choices of others, at least sometimes. We're working on that one.
Yet this issue - the will to choose badly, not despite it hurting others but because it does so - runs deeper than latter-day American political banter. So much of the death and sorrow of the human condition is attributable to this cruel beast within us all.
"So what's to be thankful for? Quickly, you promised us a thanksgiving diary!"
Long ago, we learned the value of collaboration, cooperation, community. We learned the value of making choices within the boundaries of ecological limits, customs, norms, hard-learned lessons by other, older, wiser members around us. The value of focus on and attention toward and diligent practice of ethics and working on ways to add value of all kinds to the lives of everyone and everyone around us. To make the world better and more beautiful, a wealthier more wonderful place than the day before..or at least step back, repress an impulse, and let the world's beauty continue undisturbed. We don't always have to choose to say or do something. Sometimes stillness, silence and absence are superior choices.
As a world, I am glad for the rising awareness that in many instances, progress through stepping back is not cowardice, or inaction or "cuttin' and runnin'". In many instances reparations and remediation is redemption. We see this ecologically, politically and personally. In many other cases, the price of screwing up is for keeps. The best course of action is to get gone.
Consider Vietnam. We got out. We're friends now. I have a close friend who teaches English in Ho Chi Minh city. He's utterly safe, and utterly welcome in a city that Americans repeatedly bombed to ashes. He probably falls in sight of survivors of that time every time he steps out on the street. He can do that, without fear of his life, because we chose as a country to step back.
We did not choose to the do the right thing the first time. We chose to let the slouching cruel beast, collectively, to choose wicked things. We let this be done in our names. Redemption only became possible once we stepped back and shunned our own bad choices...and we gave ourselves and those we harmed time to regroup, and reconsider, and remember: We can choose to make things right, once we choose to respect ourselves.
And that's it, isn't it? Respect. Respect is the key. Having the self-respect to look on an impulse to be selfish, to steal time, dignity or life from someone or something and go, no. That's not me. That's not right. That's not how I was raised. That's the internal dialog.
The external conversation is more about action. Think on the things I listed at the very top: Nasty outcomes like prejudice and genocide and ecological holocaust. The arenas for bullies and bigots and mean whispers about groups and individuals who are strange and weird and therefore somehow "have it coming to them"...they're everywhere. They're everyday. They were yesterday. They are today. They'll be tomorrow.
But we, each one of us, can choose to shun that. To say, slam that noise. I'm stepping up and being a better person today. I'm stepping back from this wrong. I'm asking you, my friends, to do the same.
And I am thankful we have in so many ways.
OK, I have to wrap this up promptly to follow my own advice: Today, enjoy the fellowship of family and friends. I prefer to think of this anniversary as a celebration of that brief moment in New England history when the promise of a glorious fellowship with Americans, First Nation and newcomer, could have been every good thing. It did not roll that way for long.
But it is close to four centuries later today, just as it is four decades since the assassinations of King and the Kennedys.
We can step back from the bad choices of the past. And the bad actions of today. And the bad impulses we harbor for tomorrow.
We can choose to redeem ourselves, to respect ourselves enough to live by our higher values and based on that vantage respect others through our words and actions... or recognize as in our relationship with the natural world, that sometimes silence, stillness and absence are the best choices... for a time.
Then, as my friend in Ho Chi Minh knows every day, we can circle back for that better conversation, when we are welcome again to partake of the bounty of life, this time to give rather than take.
We know the particular harms of the day. Assassinations abound. Bombs here and there. Bigotry and disinformation. Fragmentation of communities left and right.
Dark and grave circumstances abound.
Let's be thankful: It is yet in our power to choose to make things right.
Happy Thanksgiving. :)