When I lived in America I was first introduced to the tradition of Thanksgiving. I knew nothing about it and moreover, I did not have a family to go to without crossing an ocean. So we introduced the alternate Thanksgiving, which included a large international crowd and Viennese cooking.
Thanksgiving day definitely felt very different from any other day. The stores would close by 4pm and the traffic would all but stop. Everyone returned home for the turkey dinner and the ubiquitous pumpkin pie. I secretly considered myself lucky, because I cared for neither in particular and anyway – I did not have the heritage.
But I do vividly remember the Thanksgiving day of 2001.
It was just a few months after the towers fell in New York and the war on terror was proclaimed. It was about the time the collective grief gave way and turned into anger. And there was fear to be felt everywhere. Remember the scare of the anthrax threats? FedEx parcels on the doorstep suddenly felt really strange. It was also the time of air-travel getting a real hassle because of tightened airport security and everyone was limited to a single piece of carry on bag. If I do remember correctly, Thanksgiving 2001we actually went to see Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which had opened the week before. Mc Donald’s had Freedom Fries and George W proclaimed it a national duty to go and spend money on the Friday after Thanksgiving, as the retail numbers fell sharply, in the wake of 9/11 and the resolve to focus more on real values.
It was a time of epic historic dimensions and a time that changed the nation and its people forever. The wars on Afghanistan and Iraq were imminent and the headlines of the newspapers cast fear and doom every single day.
The unifying rituals of Thanksgiving were at once longed for and dreaded. Families yearned to be together in these insecure times, and yet everyone dreaded to hear more about the trauma, the political debates and the overwhelming sense of vulnerability of having been attacked and lethally wounded on one’s own ground.
It was this experience of being vulnerable that made a whole nation grow up over the course of a few weeks. From an overconfident and economically largely successful powerhouse to a nation in shock and grief, reaching out to each other, but soon reverting to the impulse to strengthen the egoic sense of self. The all things American, in God we trust and American values. It was a pledge and it was a war cry – and what happened then we have all but forgotten – the annihilation of Iraq and the worship of the golden calf – fossil oil as the means to keep our living standard as we have come to cherish.
When I think back of Thanksgiving 2001 in America, I did not know or understand what I can see now – how closely we are linked, how much we are connected. Each of us is a part of history and with everything we do, we are inevitably a part of the whole.
This is something to reflect on Thanksgiving Day 2010. We are writing history now and it is up to each of us, if that history will be heaven or hell. All it takes is to end separation. Now.