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Turkeys are thankful for vegetarians

By Shane Starr

Don’t you think it’s interesting how our understanding of Thanksgiving changes over our lifetimes?  

My grade school memories of Thanksgiving begin with those incredibly realistic representations of turkeys that are drawn by tracing the outline of your hand and giving the thumb eyes. Then we graduated to coloring an array of full-page mimeographed Thanksgiving pictures that smelled like a cross between gasoline and nail polish remover. In each purple-outlined drawing, there would typically be a hardy-looking man in odd clothes and a belt-buckle hat who was called a pilgrim. He had a blunderbuss in one hand, and a basket of produce in the other. With him would be a deliriously happy Native American with a feather in his headband, while, on the ground, a very nervous-looking turkey seemed to be looking for a way to escape. 

As we aged, the pilgrim story faded somewhat, and Thanksgiving became more about a reason for family get-togethers, a good football weekend, the start of the Christmas season. The Thanksgiving meal was always the focal point, but it was a reason for talking, laughter, good natured complaints about being overly-full, and looking forward to eating leftovers for the next two days, because there was no room in the refrigerator for anything else. We tried to include “thanks” in our celebration. 

We said our prayers of appreciation and we mentioned things for which we were thankful. Time passed. We dealt with life’s many adversities. We made hard decisions. We lost love ones. We gained new love ones through marriage and birth. We wept in the sad times and laughed in the good times. We worked hard and tried to be good citizens. 

Somewhere along the way, we began to recall the pilgrim story we were force-fed in school, and view it in a different light. We understood how much courage it had taken to move a family to a mostly-uninhabited wilderness. There were no safety nets, no farms, no supermarkets, no hospitals, just miles of forest and harsh, uncompromising winters. All of this risk was taken in pursuit of an idea – that people should be able to worship God in the way they chose, without persecution. 

The pilgrim’s first Thanksgiving was not about a bountiful harvest, or economic success. It simply celebrated the fact that half of the original settlers had survived disease and starvation, and established a tenuous foothold of religious freedom in the New World. I am not thankful enough – to my God, my nation, my community, or my family. I live in economic, political, and religious freedom. I do not worry about starvation, contagious illnesses, or my family’s safety. 

But as I age, aided by the pilgrim’s story I learned as a child, I become more and more conscious of the fact that my comfortable life comes with no guarantee. 

I hope that as I sit at the Thanksgiving table this year, surrounded by family, food, and laughter, I have the humility to be truly thankful for my blessings.