November 22, 2010

Maybe It's Me: My Most Patriotic Holiday, or, Life is Best Lived Simply

When I was a junior in high school, I was in AP (Advanced Placement) English. I spent most of the year reading the cliff notes of our required books while avoiding participation in any class activity. The only thing that kept me afloat in that class was writing assignments. And even then, my teacher told me I had no future in writing non-fiction.

For a while, we started each class with The Finger Pointing Game, where we would make a statement like “person most likely to get married first” and then we would all point to the person in class we thought that of. It was a game of perspective, an interesting take on how people saw you good or bad outside of the traditional high school stereotypes, and sometimes a lot to digest at seventeen years old.

I frequently was not pointed at – the people in my class didn’t think much of me, which was fine, because I didn’t think much of them - and usually the pointing fingers were not a consensual vote, but I remember two specific statements where not only was it unanimous, but everyone’s finger was pointed at the awkward, freckly girl in the back row:

“Wears their heart on their sleeve.”

“Most patriotic.”

The first one I understood and agreed with. While I might be more refined with my ability of self-control (which only comes with age and experience), I still understand and agree with that statement. By nature, I am an overly sensitive child of the universe, and as a result my emotions tend to spill over. Try as I might, most of the time I simply can’t conceal my feelings. I reveal myself altogether too easily through my eyes, my body language, my voice, my entire disposition. I proudly wear my heart on my sleeve – and while some people are burdened by such a characteristic, it has bridged more gaps and has helped me become a more accomplished version of myself.

On the other hand, even at the tender age of seventeen I could not be more embarrassed or disgusted at the thought of an entire group of people voting me as the “the most patriotic.” I was not some red, white, and blue toting, overweight Americana-loving freak, with a pick-up truck and a shotgun, eating fast food while blasting bad country music and drinking moonshine.

If anything, I had sand in my shoes and was itching for the day I could travel.

And when I did travel, I frequently lied about where I was from. Sometimes I did it out of shame: under no circumstance do you want to associate yourself with drunken idiots proudly proclaiming their American citizenship and ordering “Irish car bombs” in a bar in Ireland on St. Patricks Day. Sometimes out of deference: You will never know what someone is going through, unless you’re from where they are. As such, it isn’t wise then to, for example, jump into a heated conversation with Mexicans about immigration laws. And sometimes out of necessity: despite what most folks in the U.S. think, the world does not revolve around us: frequently people had never heard of where I came from. “I’m from Maine. It’s near Canada. Do you know Boston? Okay, um, Do you know New York City? Okay! Yeah, it’s in between New York City and Canada!”

In my travels once, I found myself celebrating Thanksgiving in the South. To the people I was surrounded by, the holiday was superficial at best, and was just another day to celebrate excusable gluttony while enjoying the commercialism of the proceeding holiday.

Try as I might, I couldn’t impress upon them the importance and sincerity of the day because I realized they were missing that deeply-rooted connection New Englanders have with Thanksgiving. It was baffling to me how underappreciated the day went.

And that was the first moment – at the precious age of twenty – that I realized maybe I was a little patriotic after all.

Every Thanksgiving since, something tugs at my heart – my inner patriot, I suppose – and, again it’s that inexplicable relationship and emotional affiliation I now feel towards Thanksgiving because of my geographical location and cultural upbringing.

Thanksgiving was a celebration of the harvest. That's it. There was nothing more glamorous to it than that, and yett nothing as nearly important. Not only had foreigners come to a new land to escape persecution – they came with nothing. Nothing. No possessions, no food; many had lost loved ones from the journey or to illness; and, as a result, many more were beginning to lose their faith – so, for them to come together as one body, overcome their pride and fear to reach out to the land's native people for help and guidance, and actually have enough food stuffs that their first harvest – enough that they considered it a plentiful bounty, something we would probably laugh off - was an incredible and courageous and essentially faith-filled feat.

In that situation, how could they not have a genuine outpouring of love and want to openly express their abundant gratitude and appreciation to God and family in which they were blessed with?

We need more of that.

And less turkeys and parades.

Because when you remove all the junk, life is best lived simply – the pilgrims knew that – with a hard day’s work, delicious sustainably sourced food, the people you cherish the most to share it all with, and a quiet whisper of praise to the One who made it all happen.

Maybe it’s me – or, perhaps it’s my latent patriotism colliding with the heart I wear on my sleeve – but every year that passes I feel more and more emotionally involved in the meaning behind Thanksgiving, the actual reason the holiday exists in the first place. There really is nothing sweeter, more satisfying, more blissfully overwhelming than genuinely feeling your heart and body and mind explode with gratitude and appreciation and love – LOVE! - for the simple things in life.

Like having nothing, but feeling like you have everything because of some small wonder you’d forgotten along the way.

Like being in a place - geographically, or even just in your heart - that allows you to be yourself.

Like remembering, and never undervaluing, those loved ones who’ve had a hand in getting you to where you are now.

Like keeping the faith.

And keeping the faith.

And keeping the faith.