In 1608, 102 men, women and children tearfully waved goodbye to their friends, families, houses, and land in search of freedom across the great Atlantic. According to an exhibition at the Library of Congress these voyagers were fleeing from the conviction that "... there was one true religion and that it was the duty of the civil authorities to impose it, forcibly if necessary, in the interest of saving the souls of all citizens. Nonconformists could expect no mercy and might be executed as heretics." Those escaping such religious conformity called themselves pilgrims; a title conceived by a Biblical verse in Hebrews "... they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country."
Today there are contemporary pilgrims who also wander like strangers on earth, but we call them refugees. There are millions of them -- men, women and children fleeing Syria on this very day, from much more than simply religious persecution. They also escape grenades, tumbling buildings, machine guns, beheadings, torture, and child enslavement. They seek shelter, safety, and freedom.
The pilgrims sailed on the Mayflower for months, suffering through stormy, turbulent weather, illness, and hunger due to lack of provisions. Some died on the voyage. When they finally reached The New World, they found themselves off Cape Cod, far from their original destination of Virginia. Exhausted, hungry, and disillusioned, the Pilgrims continued to suffer through a long winter and a plague that killed over half of their people.
Today Syrian refugees are escaping a war fought by multiple factions of maniac extremists (in our country we simply call them thugs) who have nothing to do with the citizens whose lives they destroy. Parents and children run through rubble-filled streets from homes and apartments flattened by grenades. They pack onto plastic and rubber boats, crossing seas, through cold, surging waves that whisk wailing bodies overboard. Children float to shore or to rescue ships. Video clips reveal harrowing rescues. Some children die.
Today we have women and children who, if they do reach land, continue to trudge for hundreds of miles, sometimes through multiple countries past landscapes covered with homes where doors remain shut. Sometimes they are penned up in camps, tossed scraps of food, and left to suffer more.
When the surviving pilgrims plodded onto the soft sand and billowing grasses of Cape Cod, the Native Americans had every reason to fear and destroy them. After all, thousands of Native Americans had perished from illness brought to their land by the white man. Other Native Americans had been enslaved, like the famous English speaking Squanto of the Wampanoag tribe. But according to Indian Country Today Media Network, "They had seen traders and fishermen, but they had not seen (pilgrim) women and children before. In the Wampanoag ways, they never would have brought their women and children into harm. So, they saw them as a peaceful people for that reason."
The Wompanoags put aside all grievances, all resentment, in honor of women and children. They did not attack. And after the winter was over, the Wampanoags sent Squanto and Samoset to teach the surviving pilgrims how to live off the foreign land with new farming and hunting methods.
The Native Americans were radically generous.
Today 56 percent of the United States of America, formed hundreds of years ago on the backs of radical Native American generosity -- FORBID refugee children, women and men to even touch our soil. Our leaders of 22 states, our billionaire charlatans with names like Trump, and our comfy citizens with cell phones poised -- we refuse to help the very most vulnerable. We draw back from our shores in fear. "Are these people dangerous? Could they hurt us?" we ask, raising our pointy forks to feast on turkey at our Thanksgiving celebrations.
To the Indians and the Pilgrims, the first Thanksgiving was a feast of sharing, an unlikely bridge built between two entirely different races. Thanksgiving was about forgiveness, new friendship, and peace. It was a celebration of abundance and merciful giving following great hardship.
I wonder, this Thanksgiving if we draw out of our overfilled selves, soaring forward in time, and we peer back at this page in history -- do we observe a "thanks giving nation" or do we simply see treachery? And who might the villains be -- the terrorists? The "safe" citizens of the great superpower United States? Or the tired, hungry, homeless Syrian mothers and fathers cradling children, willing to walk, boat or fly for hundreds of miles in search of freedom and safety?
You tell me.