When the people we refer to now as Pilgrims, left the shores of England in September of 1620, they had no idea what the next 12-15 months would hold for them. They knew that their religious liberties were at stake, their children’s futures were being shaped by a culture they did not condone, and they did not have the freedom to meet freely for worship or fellowship. It was time to make a change! And so, bravely, they did. They chartered the Mayflower and set sail westward toward a new future.
History tells us that they arrived in the Cape Cod area of present-day Massachusetts in November 1620 and by late December of that year they were actively reclaiming an abandoned settlement area near Plymouth Harbor. Recognizing the nature of humankind after experiencing some discord on the ship, they knew an organized form of government would be necessary to make this venture successful. Aboard the ship the travelers agreed to a form of self-governance as 41 men signed the Mayflower Compact on November 11, 1620. For the next few weeks, the new settlers continued to live aboard the ship and ferried back and forth to the land to begin cultivating their own community and a new way of life. As they stepped ashore for the final time they had no idea of the difficulties they would face in their unfamiliar home during that first brutal winter. The land and sea offered some sustenance and eventually yielded shelter as rudimentary homes were built first for the community, then for individual families. Friendship with the Native Wampanoags, particularly Squanto, insured that new agricultural practices were shared so the Pilgrims could plant crops such as corn and squash. The Native Americans shared fishing techniques and locations and helped the settlers survive on fish and seafood. They also learned how to hunt deer and beaver for meat. The rations were meager but helped them to survive. (History.com Editors, 2018)
Of the 102 settlers who arrived in Plymouth Harbor, only about half lived to see the first anniversary of their arrival in Plymouth Colony. The half who remained did the only thing their weary hearts could manage—offer thanks and feast with their new friends.
And here we are 400 years later in an ongoing pandemic. During this year we have survived fear, loss, uncertainty and isolation. We have buried loved ones, lost faith in leaders, learned new ways to acquire food, trained ourselves for new working and learning conditions, and adapted to new social norms. With the Thanksgiving holiday looming on the calendar, I question what kind of response is appropriate. And then I look to history. And across four centuries the answer is clear—thanksgiving.
This year more than any other in my lifetime I want to cultivate the eyes, ears and language of gratitude. My words and attitudes of gratitude make a difference not only in my life, but in those within my sphere of influence. Family, friends and colleagues come to mind as I think of those original Pilgrims who braved new circumstances together. We have all been like Pilgrims this year. We have not boarded a ship and crossed the ocean, but we have forged ahead through food and supply shortages. Communities and organizations have pulled together to make sure our children, seniors and our most vulnerable citizens were provided for and protected. And for this lesson from history, I am grateful- grateful that we can gain encouragement from the past and have renewed faith that we are stronger together and we will make it through this pandemic and season of change.
History.com Editors. (2018, October 4). The Pilgrims. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/topics/colonial-america/pilgrims