This was a post first published in my private blog on Thursday, November 26, 2009, three years ago on this day of Thanksgiving. It is with great fondness that I reproduce it here again today. Simply titled, ‘To Rachel’ it is a tribute to my late friend, and an affirmation to my love of a day that is set aside to give thanks for the many blessings and bounties of life.
Five years ago, around this time of year, my friend Rachel and I went out to have lunch at the new Zingerman’s restaurant that had opened at the corner of Maple and Stadium. Rachel Persico, my friend and colleague from work was her talkative and cynical self. Cynical because that was her style, her way, her approach to life.
I suppose she had reason to be cynical– or anything she might want to be– given that she had quite the extraordinary story about her childhood and personal circumstances. She would tell about how her family in Poland had survived the Nazi concentration camps before they eventually found their way to the newly founded nation-state of Israel in 1948. As a child at the time, she was raised in a kibbutz, and later as a young woman, she met and married a displaced and dispossessed Arab Palestinian and emigrated to the States. They made their home in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where Antone held a faculty appointment in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies, and Rachel, with her background as a social-worker and counselor, became a Student Advisor at the International Center.
Well, on that day when we went out to lunch, Rachel was waxing eloquent about the uselessness of the Thanksgiving holiday. Was it not a celebration of the massacre, domination, and eventual elimination of the native-American folk by the white invaders across the ocean? Rachel didn’t wish to see anything more to this unique American tradition, and I wasn’t particularly inclined to get into a heated exchange over our soup and salad. And so, I sat back and smiled, and made a few small sounds of dissent every now and then, but for the most part, I let her tell me just how silly and useless all the fuss was about. She knew I wasn’t buying it, but both she and I didn’t care about that, choosing only to focus on the fact that we were happy to be able to agree to disagree over a nice lunch in a nice place!
I didn’t buy it then, and I don’t buy it now– this whole argument about the supposed real purpose of the first Thanksgiving– and here’s why: regardless of the unassailable facts surrounding the occupation and inhabitation of the New World, I choose to believe that the first Pilgrims (Puritans fleeing religious discrimination in their motherland, England) truly wished to offer thanksgiving to God for the fruits of their first labors. The bounty of food and fellowship was surely worthy of giving thanks.
Giving thanks, once a year, to God and to each other, for all the good things that we have received. What a concept! Simple, yet so powerful.
So, today, on Thanksgiving Day, this exclusively American holiday, for the record, I wish to state that I am unashamedly a fan of this tradition. It is the most unpretentious– and dare I say it– least commercialized holiday whose focus is still, putting everything on hold for one day– shutting down all work and business– so as to make a nice meal and share it with the ones you love. Sometimes, they might not be so loving, and you might not even care for their company (all those horror stories of insufferable aunts, uncles, cousins, and the like are probably all true!), but the very act of coming together and putting aside differences for a while is a laudable event.
My dear friend Rachel died three years later– almost close to the day that we went out to lunch. Today, on Thanksgiving, I cherish the memory of that time, as well as all the other good times we had. Thank you, Rachel, for your friendship, and for being you. Here’s to you, today. RIP.
P.S. Rachel also loved ABBA, the band. One of her favorite songs was Waterloo. Rachel faced her Waterloo with her cancer that finally won. These are some of the lyrics from that song:
Waterloo – I was defeated, you won the war
Waterloo – promise to love you for ever more
Waterloo – couldn’t escape if I wanted to
Waterloo – knowing my fate is to be with you
Waterloo – finally facing my Waterloo
My my, I tried to hold you back but you were stronger
Oh yeah, and now it seems my only chance is giving up the fight
And how could I ever refuse
I feel like I win when I lose
Here’s a picture of my Thanksgiving table today. I have too much to be thankful for, but that doesn’t deter me from counting my blessings.