You Had to be There

Monday, November 22, 2010

I knew I should go, and I was one of the first people to sign up, but I wasn't excited about it.

My church invited Dr. Paul Maier, a well-known Christian author, to present a seminar this past Saturday. I had read one of his novels and enjoyed it, but I was lukewarm about devoting all morning and most of the afternoon to lectures that promised to make extensive use of archaeological finds and manuscripts by ancient historians. Not my idea of an interesting day.

But I was wrong. Instead of dry facts and boring academic analysis, I heard a  riveting speaker whose entertaining and informative presentation created a verbal mural worthy of Michelangelo. Okay, so nobody can compare with Michelangelo, but you get the idea.

Or maybe not. I went straight from church to my writers' critique group, where I tried to explain the experience I had just been through. The members of the group listened to me with yawns in their eyes and "whatever" in their body language. They didn't catch the fever at all.

I guess you had to have been there.

It's like that with the first Thanksgiving, too. These days, Thanksgiving is simply one more holiday. Although most of us remember to thank God for our blessings, Thanksgiving is often just another chance to get together with family and eat the table bare.

When the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth in December 1620, there were 102 of them. When they held their harvest festival in November 1621, there were only 53 left. Those 53 had survived a hard winter filled with hunger, cold, and diseases such as pneumonia and scurvy. They finally had sturdy homes and a plentiful harvest, but they must have grieved for the 26 men, 14 women, and 9 children who weren't there to share the celebration with them.

I can't know either the depth of their grief or the height of their joy as they contemplated a more promising future. I do know that my Thanksgiving celebrations are just a shadow of the harvest festival that we recognize as the first Thanksgiving. With a comfortable home and very little true sorrow in my life, I haven't experienced what the Pilgrims did.

You had to be there.

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