Thanksgiving 2011- Some Thoughts
By James Donahue
It is time once again for Americans to gather with friends and family members to feast
and give thanks for the blessings bestowed upon them during the year. At least that is the image we have always had about
the Thanksgiving Holiday. It has traditionally been a celebration at the end of the harvest, when the larders are supposedly
filled with food stored for the looming winter months.
But alas, the picture is very bleak this year for many Americans. It is no secret that
the nation is in deep economic despair. The media doesn’t dare use the word “depression” but there are so
many people that have been out of work for so long that those built-in financial nets like food stamps and unemployment benefits
are drying up. Because of big corporate greed and corruption the banks and lending institutions are foreclosing on millions
of homes, forcing people to move in with friends, relatives, or to live on the street. There appears to be a startling number
of homeless people living on the streets, in vacant buildings and in underground tunnels everywhere. There will be no celebration
of a bountiful harvest today for these Americans.
With our government in apparent gridlock, with our nation still locked in war, with thousands
of citizens in the streets in protest, with world resources running out, and with the pollution of our current materialistic
way of life bringing on drastic climate changes that threaten our food supply, our air and the water we drink, what thankfulness
can we truly generate within the spirit of this day?
Americans are, indeed, facing a dire few years ahead. But when we look back in history
and think about the conditions the first European settlers faced when they held that first feast of thanksgiving, conditions
were even worse. They were newcomers to a wild, new land. They were living among a native people who looked, dressed and lived
in a radically different way. They were a mixture of Christians and natives of a radically different spiritual pathway. Yet
the natives were introducing the new settlers to new crops like maze and squash, and teaching them not only how to grow them,
but possibly to prepare them as food on the table. It was a strange and terrifying new world. Not all of the newcomers would
survive that looming winter. But they all gathered to celebrate the harvest.
My wife Doris, our daughter Jennifer and I share a vivid memory of a Thanksgiving we spent
with strangers in Arizona at a strange time in 1995 when we found ourselves homeless, out of work, and unsure of our future.
We had sold our Michigan home, paid off all of debts, and set off on what we thought was going to be a new life on the Hopi/Navajo
reservations in Arizona. A government hospital job that my wife had been promised, complete with a furnished home on the Hopi
Reservation collapsed while we were in the midst of the move. This happened because of a budget battle between Congressional
Republicans and Democratic President Bill Clinton, much like the fight going on in Washington today. Clinton called for a
spending freeze. That meant no new employees could be hired. We found ourselves caught in Arizona without a home and without
We found refuge in a dilapidated old motel located on a branch of the old Route 66 just
outside Holbrook, Arizona. It was owned by a man and his wife who were duped into buying the place as a “business opportunity”
after they retired and moved to Arizona from Chicago. He was so desperate for income that he was renting the rooms for something
like $100 a month or $12 a day. The place became a haven for homeless derelicts. Some who shared that place were drifters.
Others were hiding out from the law.
We were all there on Thanksgiving that year. We had a small kitchenette linked to the room
we rented with a stove with only two electric burners that worked. We had a large microwave among the things we brought with
us from Michigan, and Doris magically used that to prepare a turkey. The owners of the motel used their kitchen to furnish
other dishes. We set up tables in one of the empty motel rooms and the landlord furnished a large restaurant sized coffee
maker. Collectively we put together a holiday meal and invited everybody in the motel to participate.
That Thanksgiving meal remains well etched in my memory to this day. Like the pilgrims
to the new land, we were seated at a table with total strangers, even a Navajo medicine man and his wife, and together we
gave thanks for the food we had before us and the opportunity we had to be living in America.
That same opportunity remains with us today. There are truly dark clouds on the horizon,
but has there ever been a time when Americans have not been faced with trouble? We have always weathered the storms of the
past. I somehow have confidence that we can do it again.