Everyone sucks, and that is why you should make extra sure to have a very happy Thanksgiving this year.
No, seriously. The most needful reminder of all this year is that everyone is — categorically, scripturally, and historically — the worst. The tale of humanity is a tale of murder, war, rape, disease, and other assorted catastrophes. I do not mean to be flippant about such things. They are agony, but they are the norm.
And so in order to grasp the true character of any event in any human society, one must understand that a large amount of human history is quite painful and terrible. There is no pure and unblemished culture against which we can measure the atrocities of those big bad Europeans who came to settle the New World centuries ago. Maya, Aztecs, Incas, Toltecs, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and Egyptians alike: at one point or another they have all gotten eagerly about the business of enslaving each other, sacrificing one another to false gods, or otherwise mistreating one another quite dreadfully. You don’t need religion to tell you this: you just need a few history books and a pair of eyes.
Against this rather grim backdrop there occasionally emerge, by the grace of God, a few spots of light. The story of Thanksgiving is one such spot. The Puritan Pilgrims were what is called “Separatists” from the Church of England because of their refusal to participate in rituals they deemed unbiblical. They had been “harried” (to use the language King James employed at the time) out of their native land. Though they found sanctuary for a while in the Dutch town of Leiden, they so yearned to raise their children apart from the seductions of the world that they felt called to set out for distant shores.
On the way, they were given the runaround by some thoroughly opportunistic businessmen called “The Adventurers,” kept from departure until the worst possible time, and shunted into a 75-foot-long cavern in the belly of a ship, the Mayflower, which would suffer hair-raising damage on the 65-day journey to the New World.
They arrived to find the native Wampanoags either thoroughly wiped out by disease, or else humiliated by forced capitulation to sworn enemies such as the Narragansett. Of those who had occupied the area of Patuxet, now called Plymouth, only one, Squanto, remained alive — and that was because he had been enslaved, carried to Europe, and forced to find his way home after regaining freedom.
Half the Pilgrims died during their first brutal winter in Plymouth. Their meeting with Squanto and the regional chief, Massasoit, likely saved them from ruin. And so it was that, 399 years ago, in 1621, the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag made a pact that would last for decades of peace.
It can only be understood as a miracle: these two battered, beleaguered people, rendered desperate and needy by the cruel violence of this fallen world, came together in the midst of it all — all the disease, all the heartache, all the fear — and they broke bread. Like all miracles, it was a moment in which the warmth of fellowship glowed defiantly in spite of all else — a moment puncturing through the darkness, providing some hint that we are more than this world makes us out to be.
And indeed we are, though disease and fear threaten us still. We are told this year that we must not gather, because it is not safe to do so. But just like the accusation that the European settlers of America were uniquely evil, this warning against the plague of coronavirus is based on a deep misunderstanding about what kind of world it is we live in.
It is never simple, never clean, never easy, to do the things we humans are called by God himself to do. Eating together, building families, building nations: these things are not safe. Never have been, never will be. We do them anyway, not because we can be assured of their success or their security, but because our gift and our duty is to rejoice together in the midst of all this mess. Now we are told to wait until the mess is cleaned up. That is nonsense. We will die before that happens, and we will never have lived.
The Pilgrims’ eventual governor, William Bradford, wrote in his record of the journey that when the group left Holland, they were deathly afraid and bitterly sad. But “they knew they were pilgrims, and looked not much on those things, but lift[ed] up their eyes to the heavens, their dearest country, and quieted their spirits.” So are we pilgrims, all of us, on this earth — here to find what joy in it we can. May your own Thanksgiving, and every Thanksgiving, be one moment of such joy. Do not wait until it is safe to make it so.
Spencer Klavan is host of the Young Heretics podcast and associate editor of the Claremont Review of Books and The American Mind. He can be reached on Twitter at @SpencerKlavan.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.