As we head into the holidays, which themselves have become new battlegrounds where the aggrieved can trumpet their wares (the so-called war against Christmas, for example), it’s hard to remember sometimes that underlying those holidays—at least as they are celebrated at GDS—are a set of universal values: being appreciative of what you have and recognizing your obligations to others; the necessary pursuit of peace; the worth and dignity of each individual; and the belief that until everyone is free, the rest of us are just wearing looser chains.
As someone who believes deeply in the promise of this School and this country, Thanksgiving has always seemed fraught with the weight of all that we have not yet achieved. At a time when the country’s fault lines seem more visible than ever, it’s not surprising that Thanksgiving finds itself, like the turkeys we love to eat, on the chopping block. Like the multi-car collision which we do and do not want to look at, the brutal history of White America’s relations with the first Americans casts a legitimate pall on the day. The turkey tastes good, but let’s not look too closely at the past. Despite that fact or perhaps because of that fact, the holiday remains.
My hero Ralph Ellison in the closing pages of Invisible Man wrote, “I defend because in spite of all I find that I love. I sell you no phony forgiveness, I am a desperate man—but too much of your life will be lost, its meaning lost, unless you approach it as much through love as through hate.”
Thanksgiving Day remains not because it represents what was wrong and dark in American history, but because it captures, as that other American dreamer F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “a transitory enchanted moment” when the possibility of “the last and greatest of all human dreams” was made concrete. When the English settlers feasted for three days with Massasoit and some ninety of his men, a feast that was not repeated, it held the promise that Americans could find mutual ground with one another, that habits of mind and culture could be bridged, that America could be what, in its best moments, it dreams of being.
These days that belief—that we should strive to understand one another and that e pluribus unum isn’t just a phrase on our coins—seems more elusive than ever. As we meet and feast with one another this Thanksgiving, though, it is a dream worth clinging to, a dream that brought this School into being, and continues to animate what we do each and every day. We are not there yet and the road is long, but together we will get there.
I wish all of you a most joyful and harmonious Thanksgiving.