Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Of Transformation and Giving Thanks
I had one of those a ha! experiences a couple of weeks ago when something cut through the ordinariness of the present moment and managed to rise above all the chatter in my mind. I was cooking dinner and my son was talking about Halloween, hyped-up with anticipation for our favorite holiday, and, in that jumping from topic-to-topic way that he has, he started talking about Thanksgiving. What should we make? Shepherd’s pie? Pumpkin cheesecake? He was thinking aloud about possibilities (“...Pumpkin brownies. Or should we make stuffed squashes? We can make both a main dish and a dessert, right?”) when it struck me in one extraordinarily crystalline moment: this child has no apprehension about Thanksgiving. I had to savor that realization as it washed over me.
As someone who went vegetarian in high school, my experience around Thanksgiving was very different. It was a day filled with dread, sadness and isolation. From the sound of the electric carving knife in the kitchen to the awkwardness of having people ask me why I couldn’t eat “just a little turkey once a year,” it was a day that I just suffered through, unhappily pushing the stuffing and cranberry sauce around my plate with my fork, and internally counting down the minutes until I could hide away in my bedroom. Separated from the dining room, the kitchen was a different grisly scene with an actual carcass in it, the flesh carved away and exposing more skeleton and cavity as the meal progressed; I would block my eyes whenever I was asked to bring out more rolls, more butter. I just learned to white-knuckle my way through the experience and find comfort that when this was over, I had 364 blessedly Thanksgiving-free days before the next one.
How very opposite it is for my son, raised as a vegan, and who has nothing but excitement and eager anticipation of the celebration we share with our adored friends. Our Thanksgiving - with plates overflowing with Brussels sprouts and casserole and pumpkin pie and fresh cranberry sauce - is all he has ever known about the holiday because this is how we’ve celebrated it since before he was born. Unlike myself at his age, my son knows and cares deeply about the barbarism around the holiday, but that doesn’t dampen his ability to also be able to revel in the joy of the day, which at its roots is about spending time with the people you love, laughing and catching up, and eating delicious, abundant, decadent dishes.
It occurred to me in that brief moment as we stood together in the kitchen: This is how transformation happens. In one generation - actually, within a single lifetime -Thanksgiving has transformed from a day of dread and isolation to one of pure joy. It seems to me that harnessing that drive to do better, to create a life woven with meaning, care and passion, is how we are going to transform the world, one person after the next, after the next. In that simple, ordinary moment, I saw the future that I dream about. We can change, we can evolve and thank goodness for that.
These children like my son will still be growing up in a world that considers animal products and flesh to be food and they will still be growing up in a world where the human “right” to do whatever we please, whenever we please is a given. With the lens of outsiders, these children can see the deadly consequences of our tyranny everywhere they look with the clarity of those who haven’t had their vision obstructed and this is difficult and painful. They have the added challenge of having to face peers who yell “Ewww!” at their lunches and, as young people, finding a way to live with the absurdity of that. They are not the ones who are eating carcasses, after all.
That is challenging, no doubt, but this is where it gets really, really exciting: there are engaged parents who are sourcing baseball mitts without leather, who are helping their kids opt out of dissection, who are creating new holiday traditions that are not steeped in the suffering of so many violently silenced beings. Often, we are fumbling and stumbling our way through this as we work to create a new world out of the one we have, but we are still doing it. These little things that circumvent business-as-usual practices may sound silly and trivial but they are not, they’re full of importance: we are actively creating the compassionate world we want our children to live in and every day, we are showing them that it’s possible and it’s joyful.
I started out writing this, thinking I would be writing about my son’s experience with Thanksgiving but it occurs to me that this isn’t just about Thanksgiving. This is about transforming how we think, how we feel, and how we live even within one lifetime. My son reminded me of that the other day in the kitchen: he knows about the violence of the world but he also feels pride and ownership about this life we’ve carved out for family and as a result, we have created transformation. We are not destined to have to blindly maintain the same customs and the same habits we grew up knowing just because that was how we were raised. Given that, this is what floors me sometimes, even when it’s not Thanksgiving: a feeling of immense thankfulness that we live at a time and in a place where we can live according to our deepest convictions and values.
We are building this life. We are changing the world. Whether we are parents or not, we are doing it, one person after the next. Transformation is always at our fingertips.