In some ways Thanksgiving 2012 seems not much different from the Pilgrims’ landing on a craggy slab of Massachusetts coastline long ago.
The Pilgrims of four centuries ago were facing a world of which they knew nothing – just as the current economic and geopolitical landscape seems a scary one with which many of us are not wholly familiar.
For the Pilgrims, most anything that could have gone wrong on their journey from religious intolerance to the New World did; Murphy’s Law applied exponentially.
Beyond the miles they had been willing to foray on foot from the sea and their ship, they knew nothing of this land they had come upon, nothing of what and who might be there. In fact, initially the thought never seemed to have crossed their minds that there would be anybody there.
The ground was not suitable for crops, at least not with the rudimentary tools they carried and their lack of knowledge of the soil. The viability of what they knew to grow back home in Europe was in question.
Game seemed scarce. The weather conditions atrocious even for hardy men and women of the English and Dutch stock they were.
They were literally in what to them must have seemed the Land of the Lost.
How that seems familiar to the environment of today, a different sort of rocky terrain.
An environment that save for those of a certain generation none of us have experienced, or at least not to the degree that is experienced in the 24/7 din of today.
Chronic unemployment that can not be captured in the monthly reports that do not capture those who for various reasons are not, can not or will not seek employment in a business climate buffeted by forces that seem – as with those Pilgrims – beyond our control.
Political fissions, religious fissions, the growing chasm between those who must worry about whether there will be food on the table that night and those who don’t – they all serve to divide, just as the harsh conditions came to divide at times the men and women of the Mayflower.
There is much to make us anxious. This will be a difficult Thanksgiving – hardly a holiday for far too many.
But the Pilgrims were taught a valuable lesson by the Native Americans – savages as they initially saw them – who inhabited those shores of the bay in which the Mayflower ultimately anchored for safe harbor.
For while these men and women weren’t big on modesty in what passed for their dress, and talked and behaved in ways foreign to the Pilgrims, they were also large of heart, human beings no matter the color.
What is little understood, but is explained by Nathaniel Philbrick in his fascinating book “Mayflower” is that while there might have been a feast of some kind on a date sometime near the end of the Pilgrims’ first year in the New World, it was a product of a bond of community formed between people of different color, religion and outlook on life.
Thanksgiving, and they did not know it as that and it would become a holiday only centuries later than that 1620’s sit down, was for the Pilgrims something that was played out over more than 24 hours.
The previous winter their very existence was in the balance. The Native Americans could have easily killed them, just as the weather and disease depleted their ranks.
Instead, those Native Americans would teach the newcomers about the land they had arrived at, about hunting, fishing and farming.
They taught the Pilgrims survival and stewardship of the land.
In turn, instead of choosing arrogant isolationism in their new quarters, the Pilgrims reached out to the Native Americans, establishing a bartering system, sleeping in their wigwams, choosing to learn, coming to understand these were just human beings.
Only later, when, what else, territory became an issue, did tension and ultimately bloodshed come to those first Anglo-Saxon arrivals and those there to greet them.
So today, hopefully, is a day to put aside the loose ends of life which isolate and divide us to remember the things that bring us together.
The community that exists in this county emerges during the toughest of times and this year will be no different.
There are the slew of volunteers who will spend their holidays providing sustenance and cheer to, literally, hundreds who would otherwise be without a warm meal and fellowship on a day all about warm meals and fellowship.
And a Sheriff’s Office, and other organizations, with a mission of meeting the Christmas wishes of needy children and families in the county.
That is just a sampling – a small sampling – of what a unique and special community Gulf County can be when the sledding is most difficult.
And on this day that will be difficult for many, we find thanksgiving in that community, that sense of not being alone.
Discovering that at their most tested they were not alone made all the difference for the Pilgrims long ago.
Our hope on this day is that understanding the value of that sense of community today can make a difference in all our lives.