In Search Of Something Better: A Story Of Thanksgiving
Not even allowing the ink to fully dry on the parchment in front of him, the thirty-year-old corduroy worker stepped back and began to wonder about what he had just signed. Left arm bent upward and resting on the other, fist unconsciously touching his lips, the young man stared silently at the hastily prepared document which intended to lay the framework for a self-sustaining government in the days ahead.
For nearly seven weeks, they had endured unforgiving seas and deprivation. Yet now, even as land was in sight just beyond the reach of an outstretched hand, security and order seemed farther away than the homes they had left behind in Europe several weeks before. Threats of rebellion and individual ambition were being whispered of down in the “’tween,” the area sandwiched between the cargo hold and deck of the ship. Even worse, some among the 102 passengers had been delivering what he would later refer to in his memoirs as “discontented and mutinous speeches.” But even at his young age, he had already displayed a great deal of wisdom among the ranks of his fellow passengers. And in his mind, this was to be expected. After all, they were Pilgrims…
William Bradford was no stranger to uncertainty. Experiencing the death of both parents while only a child, Bradford had learned the importance of self-reliance, yet also the value of dependence upon a power greater than his own. Devoutly religious, Bradford was just one of many who had fled the persecution of King James I. And although it was several years later, he found himself onboard The Mayflower…which now anxiously rocked upon the lazy surf off the coast of present-day Cape Cod.
They came in search of something better. Whether you prefer the cozy, traditional storybook tale of the celebratory feast with the Wampanoag Indians, or if you prefer to know and study the reality of that deadly first year in Plymouth (when more than half of the Pilgrims perished), their tale, their courage, and both sides of the story make for a fanciful piece of American history.
They came in search of freedom. Not just the religious toleration that our Sunday School teachers taught us as kids each and every November, but for an entirely new way of life. They sought those religious ideals, but they also sought unity, peace, and prosperity. They sought a new start. They sought the opportunity to write their own ‘happy ending.’
In many ways, their story is our story. And while you and I have never braved weeks on the high seas with constant deprivation and the threat of scurvy (or worse), our challenges are in many ways much like theirs.
They knew what their values and beliefs were. Yet, they were willing to sacrifice comfort and convenience for the slim window of opportunity to ‘live free or die’ (later adopted as New Hampshire’s state motto). And while we may not actively put our personal safety on the line daily, our ancestors have carried the torch of similar sentiments on battlefields across the globe. In more modern times, as Americans we are willing to risk our financial well-being for the potential rewards of entrepreneurial prosperity.
They were, in many ways, rebels. Their early heartbeats of standing firm against tyrannical idealism could be felt in the pulse of our patriots in 1776, within the veins of our boys on the shores of Normandy, and in the very fiber of our being by ridding the world of modern dictators like Saddam Hussein. We love the underdog (even in sports), as it had been our role in the world from the very beginning up until World War II. We are ever optimistic and hopeful for that ‘fairytale ending,’ best suited for the amazement of children, and always within the reach of our heroes. Yet today that same spirit lives on despite our new role of “watchdog,” standing ever vigilant against those who would test the foundations of freedom around the world.
And they were pioneers. America has always been, since those early days of discovery and exploration dating back to the 1400s, a place that has cultivated a bountiful harvest of prosperity for those brave enough to step blindly into the unknown wilderness in front of them. Perhaps that is why over the past few hundred years, America has been the one place on Earth that people have fled to in search of themselves – in search of a new start, in search of prosperity and freedom, in search of something better…
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