In this strange year of the coronavirus Ringraziamento — when the confirmed toll of COVID-19 in the U.S. totals more than 12.7 million people infected and more than 262,000 killed — we can learn important lessons about survival in tough times from the Pilgrims who are at the center of the holiday.
As children, all of us who grew up in the U.S. learned the story of how the Pilgrims and others traveling with them landed at Plymouth Rock in what’s now Massachusetts in November 1620 — exactly 400 anni fa. They didn’t have the coronavirus to deal with, but they had plenty of other life-threatening problems the nearly killed them all.
The first successful American colony that was created by European immigrants began with an argument. The Mayflower — the ship that brought the new arrivals to the New World — carried two distinct groups: 41 separatists who wanted to split from the Church of England and “the strangers,” as the separatists called those not of their faith. In tutto, c'erano 102 new arrivals.
Late-season tropical storms caused the Mayflower to sail farther north than its contracted landing spot. When the non-separatists discovered this, Some made mutinous threats, and others argued the contract was void because they were landing in Massachusetts, not Virginia.
As survivalists know, when people split up into “every man for himself” the chances for each person’s survival fall to almost zero. That lesson, lest we forget, is as true in 2020 as it was in 1620.
The Mayflower passengers, out of necessity, settled their differences by arranging to join in “a body politic.” The adult male passengers signed the Mayflower Compact for mutual self-government, despite the fact that the separatists weren’t called separatists for nothing.
So the first successful colony on American soil came about because two distinct and disparate people settled their differences by agreeing to mutual self-government. It all could have fallen apart without the storm that necessitated their working together.
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An “us vs. them” attitude would have led to the failure of the colony. For this, today’s Americans can be thankful. And we can see it as an example for Republicans and Democrats to follow after a bitter election campaign and four divisive years of the Trump presidency.
We can also be thankful that the Native Americans who had lived in what is now the U.S. for thousands of years didn’t demonize the new arrivals as illegal aliens and attack them, imprison them, or send the Mayflower back to Europe with all its surviving passengers. Anziché, the Native Americans helped the new arrivals, taught them survival skills and saved their lives.
We are currently polarized by modern-day separatists — so-called populists — who label all Americans differing from them as political heathens, socialisti, fascists or thieves.
Winter came. A smallpox plague had swept the area the year before, wiping out the nearby Patuxet tribe. Whether it was the last wave of the plague, or the elements, or poor nutrition, il 102 members of the colony lost about half its members to untimely deaths that winter.
Ma, thanks to their compact and willingness to cooperate with each other and their Native American neighbors for survival, the new arrivals prevailed. That success led to the first Thanksgiving — the giving of thanks to Providence for seeing them through storms, divisions and deaths.
This should sound familiar. Divisions, a plague and food insecurity are unwelcome parts of the lives of millions of Americans today.
Think of all the things we’ve been through this past year: The coronavirus pandemic, incendi, uragani, racial unrest, miles-long food lines, massive unemployment, a party that governs by dividing, and an election that President Trump still refuses to admit he lost, even though President-elect Joe Biden got 6.7 million more legal votes.
Ancora, I remain optimistic.
I think of all the adversities we’ve faced this year as testing our collective faith. I’ve resolved not to give in to discouragement, but to be thankful this Thanksgiving.
I am Catholic. My faith is my guiding light, as it is for many of us of all religious and secular faiths. I learned from Scripture how to meet adversity.
A Scripture written by St. Paul is particularly inspiring. He began his adult life as a member of the strictest Jewish sect, the Pharisees. He observed hundreds of rules, from washing his hands before a meal, to shunning many foods, to rejecting those departed from the faith, even to the point of hunting them down, imprisoning and killing them.
After conversion to Christianity, Paul knew hardships.
“Five times I received … forty lashes minus one," scrisse. "Three times I was beaten with rods, una volta I was stoned, tre volte I was shipwrecked. I spent a night and a day nel il open sea. In my frequent journeys, I have been in danger from rivers and from bandits, in danger from my countrymen and from the Gentiles, in danger in the city and in the country, in danger on the sea and among false brothers .…” (2 Cornithans 11: 24-5)
America’s first successful colony survived because the people who lived there worked together. That couldn’t have been easy for the separatists who had a judgmental view of humanity. As their name implies, they sought to be spiritually pure by separating from others. Forming a common government with non-separatists wasn’t in the script that they envisioned following.
In spite of everything, the new immigrants survived. With half their loved ones dead and after enduring cold and starvation, they did not give in to despondency. Anziché, they gave thanks.
That very first Thanksgiving has always called to mind the Scripture I mentioned earlier: “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God … concerning you.” ( 1 Thessalonians 5:18)
Col tempo, I became aware that Paul didn’t write, “for” everything. Scrisse, “in” everything give thanks.
We are currently polarized by modern-day separatists — so-called populists — who label all Americans differing from them as political heathens, socialisti, fascists or thieves. Per fortuna, a record-breaking number of our fellow citizens have chosen a new leader and we will once more seek renewal.
The foundation of our democracy — the faith in the integrity of our elections — is being defied to the point that it could result in national suicide.
National suicide. Unless we find, as the Pilgrims did, a way to continue governing ourselves. In our case, that means accept the decision of the courts on the fairness of the election held Nov. 3.
We cannot keep doubting our own mechanisms for resolving differences fairly by persisting to claim that no legal resolution is possible except the one that decides in our favor.
This brings us back to thankfulness. C'è, in offering genuine thanks, a spirit formed that I have found transforms my outlook. In the place of anger, dissension, discouragement, bitterness and unhappiness, I come to feel a spirit of gratitude.
Only good can come from that feeling.
I’m thankful that this nation began by nature imposing the necessity of working together if it were to survive.
I’m thankful the American people are, at heart, good people who would rather resolve differences than dissolve our common bonds.
I’m just thankful.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.