Thanksgiving and Remembering Cruel Truths

CRUELTRUTH“Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion.” – Edward Abbey

With Thanksgiving arriving in just hours, I have had a lot of people asking me about how I view the holiday for two reasons: one, because of my native ancestry and, two, because of my views on eating meat.  In thinking about the answers to give, I realized these kinds of questions are so frequently posed out of a universal ignorance that I blame the American education system for.  Our schools don’t teach American Indian history nearly to the depth of its potential, the views are biased and often incorrect, and there exists a common lackluster outlook on American Indian history in general, borne primarily of the uninformed assumption that no American Indians could have influenced American modern history.  Thus I decided to combine a short bit of my view on the holiday with this quote about the truth.

Edward Abbey, a fellow Pennsylvanian, was a writer and advocate in environmental issues, land policies, etc.  As you can imagine, he was very in-tune with discovering his own truths and acknowledging where real problems lie.  He reminds us that the truth is often a bitter pill to swallow, but living a lie is only disguising a lingering ache.  Sometimes, you’re better off just taking the blow making the best out of what you have.  So how can we apply this in daily life?  I say, look for the real truth, the honest hidden reasons and motivations behind everything around you, whether it be political, religious, or even just an action done by someone you do or don’t know.  Don’t settle on the easy explanation for anything, and don’t let yourself be biased by other peoples’ gullibility.  Become an active truth-seeker.  But I would also like to add this: Don’t be too arrogant to turn your head on your own mistakes.  If you’re called out on something, consider why, step back and honestly evaluate yourself and your actions, and don’t take offense.  Instead, learn how to improve upon it and better yourself, and even give thanks for the criticism.  It will make you a better person…yet, if only I could follow my own advice…

But how does this tie in to Thanksgiving?

As I mentioned, a lot of American history seems to have a filter on it to me, a filter that glorifies and burns the deeds of the government and which ignores and dodges the truth of the American Indian contributions to said history.  (And see what I did there?  “Burns”, “dodges’,.. it’s a photography darkroom reference…).  When the “Pilgrims” arrived, they were starving Englishmen.  They didn’t encounter “the Native Americans”, they were approached by the Wampanoags, a single tribe from the area at that time.  This tribe had many relations with other tribes in the region and farther, so strangers speaking another language and some culture shock was not a new concept for them.  Regardless of how the actual events unfurled that cause us to celebrate this single feast, Thanksgiving represents the Pilgrims’ absolute reliance on the Wampanoags for survival.  The Wampanoags showed them how to live off of their land and provided for them the very foods that contribute to the classic holiday meal.  The original feast was meant to recognize the knowledge- and resource-rich Wampanoag breaking equal bread with the impoverished, desolate Pilgrims and their thankfulness for each other.  Instead, the Pilgrims fell out of peaceful relations with the Wampanoags and thus began a long history of Indian oppression by the immigrants.  And although helping the Pilgrims probably didn’t affect the inevitable waves of subsequent immigrants and their hostile reactions towards American tribes, the actions of the Wampanoags certainly demonstrates the truth of their intentions and the willingness to share their sustainable, earth-appreciating practices to reap the benefits of their sacred homelands.

Yet today… today, Americans stuff their faces with these mass-produced, widely-shipped foods, losing touch with the original varieties and instead falling in love with altered, modified, and added-to versions of classic dishes.  Incredible amounts of fuel are burned to transport people in poor weather conditions all across this large, assimilated country – one that is deprived of the original cultures that helped sustain its first peoples.  Not only that, but the adulterated modern Christmas, filled with presents instead of family and tradition, is slowly flooding into the November holiday.  If Black Friday weren’t disgusting enough, now Christmas is trying to sell itself early and selfish, greedy shoppers are buying useless gifts everyone (including themselves!) instead of actually learning to appreciate and be thankful for what they have.  There is really nothing much left to the holiday, as originally intended…

Why do we not learn about these differences or address these problems?  Why do people so obsessed with these sales fail to see any way around it?  That is largely in part due to the cruel truth behind the events which unfurled and the improper education perpetuating half-truths.  It is a kind of denial against the problems of our past which now amplify our problems today.  And these problems continue to grow, but none will be fixed until we can acknowledge these problems and use them to correct ourselves.  There’s no need to live in a comfortable delusion…

 

Fear and Starting.

One thing that has got me wrapped up a lot in thoughts lately is committing to something, to starting. I write and will continue to write a lot about change, about fear, and about decisions. But what about when you combine change, fear, and decisions into a single moment? What does that become? Well, it may not seem obvious, but doesn’t it just become a new beginning?

Starting over, starting fresh, starting anew – that all sounds fantastic. But starting one thing often means replacing or ending another, if not simply stressing yourself out and spreading yourself too thin. Starting can mean a lot of unknown territory. Therefore, starting involves a lot of change, put into effect by cue of a decision, and constantly provoked by fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of having made that wrong choice. Fear of the consequences of that change.

So “starting” is deeply rooted in fear, no matter how wonderful and ambitious starting something might feel. I think what I fear the most about starting is my inability to endure and the probability (or sometimes inevitable reality) that I will fail. If I’m starting a new crocheting project, failure seems habitual. (If only you realized how many times I’ve forgotten a project, or set it aside and lost count of my stitches, or even left it somewhere for my cats to half-unravel. What’s worse is when I try to knit because, no matter how rectangular my piece should be, it always turns into a 45-45-90 triangle… ineptitude FTW!) If I’m starting a book, failure seems unlikely but not at all dangerous (bookmarks are easily forgotten and books re-shelved). But what if that failure involves other people?

I’m always fearful of starting anything involving another person. And I don’t just mean a friendship or relationship; I mean anything that might come with it an unspoken expectancy of consistency and repetition. I’m terrified of letting people down and being remembered for it. I’m also fearful of starting any kind of group or inspirational movement. It’s a silly fear, because my goal in life is to make a change in the world that will last longer than I will. You have to jump to kick-start such strides. But what if I jump and there was nowhere I could’ve gone? Something I missed? No one to follow me? What if everyone will stand at the top and just laugh at me and not help me back up?

It’s really easy to be frustrated by a friend who can’t pull himself away from the things he has grown to know best. He doesn’t want to abandon his old ring of friends, his family, his hometown, his high school memories. He wants to replay, relive, and continue to stay in the life he has always known. With me becoming such a reckless wanderer over the past year who invites nothing but chaos and unknowns as a way to get through the rough times, I tend to forget that he hasn’t experienced any new personal growth in a while. He doesn’t understand the inspiration in starting a new path.

It’s really hard to see that and then to step back and realize I can’t blame him for not taking that leap. I might not see leaving home or friends or an old relationship as a challenge the way it was two years ago, but I am afraid to speak my mind at times when I know he would stand up for himself. Those times are the latter of which I was speaking, the times that involve other people to start a movement. My friend is eager to get people onboard, to provoke their minds and create his own bandwagon. I, however, am afraid to do that; and it’s what I want to do the most.

That is when I got a fortune cookie that changed me: “Act boldly and unseen forces will come to your aid.”

When I got back from Colorado at the start of November, I sent out a survey to a lot of people whom I knew and didn’t know so well. It was a survey asking for feedback on the movement I wish to begin in my community. It was outlandish in ways and definitely provoking. I had some hateful responses from people who clearly are not personally involved. As much as I wanted to cave and let them defeat me, I remembered why I was doing this for the first place and realized it was not for me but for the people I care about. That’s when I started to let the positive feedback sink in and I realized how much praise I was being given.

“You’re an inspiration to me; your ideas are radical, but if they work this will be life-changing for so many people. Even if it doesn’t work, this will still change our lives by your inspiration.”

I’m not in it for the recognition, but that sentiment was exactly what I needed to make me realize this is why I’m here. I can’t sit back and let these desires burn; I’d burn up from anxiety. Instead, I have to let it catch me on fire and just go running off that cliff. I’ve gotten over my fear of changes in work, friends, and hometown, but now I’m going to get through this too and decide that I’ve got to put my armor down. People might hurt me from time to time, but I’ve got to act like a martyr for my cause before I even have a reason to be acknowledged. Confidence is enough to convince people you are not one to be questioned or taken lightly. And so I act boldly. And those forces have come to my aid from unseen places. The ball is rolling.

And that fortune is still sitting next to my stapler.

Crushed.

Two days before Linda’s would-be birthday, I’m wearing her November necklace, I have a lot on my mind,…

and I’m delivered a crushing blow.

I never see those coming.

Then someone else lifts me up.

I’m in limbo.

I feel like my heart has been ripped out and yet being saved from my sadness only makes me hurt more.  Because I realize I have nothing figured out.  I’m so confused.  The let-down in crushing, the raising-up is crushing.

Can’t everything just settle out for me already?  I’m exhausted from trying, from trying not to care, and from trying to care again.

Learning from Lessons.

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Buddha, or  Siddhārtha Gautama, was a sage whose methods became the basis of Buddhism.  The Buddha introduced the concept of dharma and acknowledged that life is full of suffering.  Through the suffering, one must find enlightenment.  Thus, this quote is honorable reflection on life in a Buddhist light: “Every experience, no matter how bad it seems, holds within it a blessing of some kind.  The goal is to find it.”

I hate when someone is a successful person and all of his or her peers complain that “(S)he’s got it easy” or that “Everything always falls in his/her lap”.  When is that ever the case?  I’ve never known that to be the case, but people have certainly said that behind my back… and I know nothing has ever come easily to me.  Maybe I didn’t grow up on the streets, but I had been then maybe the expectations placed on me would have been less tantalizing.  Maybe small life strides would have appeared as larger leaps in their respective circumstances.  Rather than seeing what someone has, I therefore prefer to see how far he or she has come and the choices he/she has made – but only in conjunction with the way he/she has handled the consequences.

So in thinking about the measures of success and the decisions we make in life, I like to reflect on this quote of the Buddha’s to keep our aspirations grounded, not with restraint but as a demonstration of displacement to remind us of how far we go every time in take a leap forwards or backwards, to look back and see how much of the scenery we did or didn’t miss along the way.  In the same way that I think it is important for us, as this quote suggests, to reflect on how far we have come and what lessons we have taken from both our successes and failures, I also think it’s important to refrain from judging anyone who has made the same choices or strode to the same destination.

“Every bad thing happens for a reason” is something my mom always reminds me of.  Why did I forget my wallet and have to come home, making me late?  Because I might have hit that deer that is now long gone, and I was not meant to hit that deer.  Not today.  It grounds me to realize being a few minutes late is trivial, to remember what bad things could happen, and to be glad that things worked out the way they will always work out.

But even when I make bad choices, it’s always a door-opener.  Maybe I feel like it opens a door to a place farther backwards from where I was standing before I made that choice, but in choosing to open the best door I make that commitment to going forward again.  And if we never made those little mishaps along the way, wouldn’t we in turn be missing more doors and missing what it looks like to be standing behind ourselves?  It’s what you take from it that defines you.  So keep that in mind and listen to Buddha!