A Sunday school teacher once told me that Thanksgiving was all about loving your neighbor as yourself.
But I think what she really meant to say was: Pilgrims and Indians.
Because that year, for our pageant, we crafted white paper collars, feathered headdresses, and flat-top hats. I ran around shirtless, carrying a tomahawk.
Things were going fine until Jimmy Dickie smuggled a bee-bee gun into school.
Jimmy lowered his musket at me and said, “Run like hell, Kaw-Liga.”
The teacher confiscated his weapon, stripped him of his Pilgrim duties, and gave him the role of watermelon in our pageant. I don’t know if pioneers of the New World had watermelons, but they did that year.
My friend Abe once told me he thought Thanksgiving was about family. I met Abe through a friend. Abe explained that his pregnant wife and two-year-old had died in an auto accident several years earlier.
Abe is a Cuban immigrant, so was his wife. Long ago, they arrived in Miami clutching a raft.
My wife invited him for Thanksgiving. He declined.
“No thanks,” said Abe. “I volunteer at shelter in Pensacola. People who have no families need me, I understand them.”
Abe texted me this morning. He always does that during the holidays.
If you would’ve asked my uncle, he would’ve told you today was about fun. Then, he’d toss back a six-pack to prove it.
He hand-rolled his cigarettes and carried tobacco in a leather pouch. He used words like, “hot almighty,” and, “yeah boy.”
I remember sitting on the porch with him one autumn night. He blew smoke at the stars and said, “Don’t ever stop having fun, boy, or smiling. Not even if your wife leaves you for another.”
God rest his soul.
Yesterday, I asked a nine-year-old what she thought Thanksgiving was.
To quote her: “It’s about happiness, and like, well, turkeys, uh, maybe, I dunno, just good stuff.”
Well said, kid.
But as it turns out, good stuff is hard to come by. Real hard. And some of us have wounds too deep for turkey and cranberry sauce to heal. This world is painful place to live.
Sooner or later, even nine-year-olds figure that out.
Besides, happiness is a myth. The moment you think you have it, your transmission dies, your house blows up, and your loved ones leave.
It doesn’t matter what I think. But if you were to ask me, I’d tell you squarely. I believe today is about one thing. Just one. I’m talking about a thing so big and bright, people can’t even agree on a word for it.
I don’t care what you call it.
I only hope we give as much of it to our neighbor as we do ourselves.