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In Search Of Something Better: A Story Of Thanksgiving

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Bradford stepped back and let the others proceed toward the table to sign, just as he had done only seconds before. Some obviously did so with great hesitation, a few others with a sense of resentment. Yet this was a necessary step, both literally and symbolically, as it signified that the Pilgrims had the vision to recognize the need for stability and order once they made landfall. Things would not be easy, and everyone would need to band together under a single, unified goal if survival (much less prosperity) was to be achieved.

Carver…Winslow…Brewster…one by one they picked up the well-worn quill and pledged mutual cooperation for the “general good of the colony”…Allerton, Hopkins, Martin, Mullins…

The document, which later became commonly recognized as The Mayflower Compact, was a simple, yet well-worded covenant that outlined the necessity for order, and the firm reliance upon God’s protection and blessing:

“IN THE NAME OF GOD, AMEN. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, &c. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience.

IN WITNESS whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape-Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, Anno Domini; 1620.”

In all, each of the 41 adult male passengers affixed their name to the document, and forged a bond that would set the stage for a self-governing colony. Yet, of the 102 who survived the long and perilous journey, more than half would perish due to starvation or illness in the first year that preceded the celebratory feast we now recognize as Thanksgiving.

In our modern world of iPods, cell phones, and flat-screen TV’s, we’ve become all too complacent to fully soak in an understanding and appreciation for our historical roots. Long gone is the need for a history lecture explaining the significance of our past; f it can’t be downloaded, or sent to us as a text message with a random smiley face in the signature – well then, it just won’t “do” anymore. After all, those things are better suited for a classroom (complete with corresponding overhead notes and a monotone voice), than for our fast-paced “digital age” lifestyle of the ‘here and now.’

We’ve fallen victim to commercialism, and have allowed Hallmark, the local mall, and made-for-television movies to tell us what is and is not significant about our holidays.

Think about it. Do you realize that many young Americans (some of them our own kids) have a greater understanding of Halloween than they do of The Fourth of July? Do you realize that most Americans spend more time in recognition of Valentines Day than they do for Memorial Day?

It’s sad, but unfortunately, it is also quite true. We have become victimized by commercialism that places greater value on the ‘propping-up’ of the present with feel-good antics, than on solidifying our roots by incorporating traditional values through historical appreciation. Perhaps Bradford and his fellow passengers should have gone Trick-or-Treating with the Indians, or given them a dozen red roses, rather than pausing to remember the trials and tribulations, and celebrating the prosperity that had finally been realized.

I’m sorry to admit this, but we have lost our way. We have lost our vision. We have lost our spirit and passion, and we lost these in the same place that we lost our past … down in the paper sack full of candy we’ve horded that is certainly rotting more than our teeth these days.

I often wonder what that first Thanksgiving was really like. Like most, I had a particular image ingrained deep in my childhood memory of large black-buckle hats, colorful Indian headdresses, and a bountiful feast of turkey, corn, and pumpkin pie. As a boy, I imagined the celebration unfolded just as we had often reenacted it in the cafeteria at my elementary school, and that the Pilgrims and Indians lived ‘happily ever after.’ That was, after all, what we had been taught, right?

It was not until I was in college that I learned that this ‘peace’ between the two parties would be severely splintered just a generation later, thus shattering the Hallmark-like ending I had held for so long…

William Bradford finished his meal and began walking toward a patch of trees where he would often go when he needed to think and pray. Yet every step seemed to bring another handshake, an assuring pat on the back, a story of someone’s debt of gratitude to him.

But on this day Bradford wanted none of it. He just needed to walk away from the noise and laughter that was closing in around him amidst the rising dust from another wrestling match between two braves. He needed escape. He needed to be alone.

He barely made it to the familiar spot before he broke. Knowing he was now far enough away from the celebration, he let his guard down and caved in. The tears began to pour out and hit the damp ground just as quickly as his knees had done. Finding it hard to catch his breath, Bradford began sobbing…praying…remembering.

He remembered his youth and the death of his parents. He remembered his constant journeys as a young man in search of the truth, the years spent fleeing persecution under religious tyranny. He remembered the voyage, the peril and despair, and the joyous hope that befell them all when land was finally within sight.

He remembered pledging his full faith in God, and his efforts to the success and “general good of the colony.” He remembered the small waves against the rickety ship as they landed, the blind step into the fog and mist that day. He remembered finding a firm footing upon the solid foundation of a simple, yet symbolic rock.

He remembered how ill prepared they were for the challenges that awaited them. He remembered the struggle and the loss. And even now, on the fringe of a joyous celebration that marked success and the giving of thanks, he remembered them

He remembered those who would follow and he wept, praising God and praying aloud for them … for us.

On a recent Thanksgiving, as I visited with good friends and family amidst more blessings than I could possibly give ample ‘thanks’ for, I tried to remember. And while I allowed myself to play a game of mental tug-o-war over bills, car repairs, and all the things over which I have no control, I was blinded…and I forgot…because of me.

I forgot just how secure I am in this great nation; then I looked at scores of American heroes in pictures and videos who have defended this country by sacrificing their lives through the years.

I forgot just how much I do have.

Yet, only a few years ago, I watched as my “fellow man” trampled an employee at a Wal-Mart on “Black Friday,” exchanging the employee’s life for a “good bargain” on a manmade item that would be forgotten in a month.

I forgot about the ‘general good of the colony’ and ‘charity’ to others, as I watched as greedy citizens wrestled over the last X-Box on the day after Thanksgiving and heard about others who were shot inside a Toys ‘R Us store that very same day.

I forgot about faith in something (and someone) bigger than myself…then I heard about “Giving Thanks” on TV through the singing of about two-dozen choir members from a small, rural church somewhere in Tennessee.

I often wonder what our founders would think of us today. Would they still ‘give thanks’ for what we have become? Or, if they had it to do all over again, would they willingly sacrifice the same in exchange for the generations who would extinguish the flame and drop the torch of their courageous spirit? Did we lose that “something better” they searched, and fought, and sacrificed so much for?

Those are questions that cannot be answered in a handful of simple paragraphs, tucked away and lost among the millions of webpages floating in cyberspace. They are questions that must be answered only in the hearts, minds, and prayers of a nation that has truly forgotten…and one that desperately needs to find its way back home.

——————

Corey Thompson writes at The Thirsty Quill.

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