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Back to the Future: A History of Thanksgiving

On my counter sits two bags of delicious homemade bread. My fridge boasts a beautiful display of homemade roasted pepper soup made by one of the very talented local authors of Mennonite Girls Can Cook. Last night we devoured plates of roasted potatoes, walnut chocolate chip cookies, and ‘easy lasagna’ casserole, all cooked fresh by a very dear friend of our family.

And right now I’m lightly cleaning up for the arrival of some of our favorite people ever – whom we also happen to be related to. These amazing friends and relatives are bringing every last inch of Thanksgiving dinner to us.


All of this comes on the heels of the best news I’ve heard in the last few months: my prolactin levels were normal.

That means, no tumor.

At least, not in my pituitary gland.

It wouldn’t technically have been cancer, and it wouldn’t technically have been in my brain, but the thought of operating inside my skull – and the thought of something growing inside my skull, affecting how I thought, saw, and did things – really shook me.

The thought of another cancer or almost cancer made my brain – and heart – hurt.

David texted me the news on Thursday morning: I called the doctor. Pit levels are good. 

I stared at my phone for several minutes.

And then I fell down. Crouched by the side of my kitchen island, the only coherent words I could muster were thank you… thank you.

They say one of the greatest tragedies of life is having something great happen and not knowing who to thank.

I think it goes beyond that. I think our greatest tragedies are when we don’t realize we have anything to be thankful for.

In university, one of my professors said that Ancient Israelites had a far different idea of time than we do now. He liked to call their philosophy, ‘Back to the Future,’ and no, he didn’t mean the 1985 iconic movie.

He referred to their orientation to time. The past was not behind them; the future was.

Our culture today constantly looks ahead. We plan, we prepare, and we worry. We expect, we project, we try to control.

We don’t spend enough time in the past.

And I think we’re losing some of our layers – as a people, as individuals, as members of a community.

Ancient Israelites didn’t forget the past, as we are so fond of doing today. Quite the opposite. They focused themselves around the past. They spent every holiday, every community meeting, not predicting what might come, but recounting what had come before.

And they did this, all through the lens of what had been done for them, and what had been given to them.

They continually told – and retold – their history of thanksgiving.

No matter what you believe, no matter what you value, no matter what your personality, I think we all could do with a little more of this history of thanksgiving. 

A profoundly talented twitter friend of mine has a passion for history; she doesn’t care just about what happened, but who it happened to, and why. You may enjoy her Harboring History blog. She makes these people real to me.

Which they are. Or were. Real, that is. The things that happened to them were real. The things they thought, did, and cared about were real. Their pictures may be sepia-colored, but their lives were bright blue, green, and red.

It’s not only that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.

Those who don’t know history don’t have the confidence to face the future with hope. They don’t have the knowledge that we’ve been here before and we made it to the other side.

When I put my back to the future, I can remember all the times I thought I wasn’t going to make it and did anyways, all the times I wondered how on earth I’d get out of something and did anyways, and all the times I thought I’ll never be the same again only to realize that was exactly what needed to happen, because it made me so much better than I was.

And – the one at the front of my mind today – I remember how many times it could have been my time to go, and I stayed.

Likewise, when I focus on the people of the past, I remember all who’ve faced the same mountains I do, who’ve climbed them with just as much determination, and who’ve done things that make my journey so much easier.

When I recount these things to myself, there’s no room for worry, or fear; there’s no compulsion to control, manipulate, rearrange. I know what I’ve been through, I know what others have done before me, and I know that other people will be along at just the right time to help me.

Just as I am there to help them.

So, even though there are many more tests whose results we wait for, the good news from this one allows me to be more hopeful about the next.

I urge you all, today, as you prepare for Canadian Thanksgiving…

Let’s be better historians.

Let’s not only face our fears, but occasionally put our backs to them as well. And when we turn away, let’s remember every single thing that’s good about the past.

Because, when we turn to face our fear again, we may just find –

It’s no longer there.


6 Comments Post a comment
  1. As a future-oriented person, I can only say, I agree. We adopted a young girl from Ukraine ten months ago and I find myself frequently, more than I ever have, living in the past. It was a terrific journey and one I do not want to forget. So I get it, the past is a good place to spend some time. Blessings on you!

    October 9, 2011
    • Thanks, Kelly. Another great thing about remembering the past is that we get to relieve great journeys like yours. Such a great point! So glad you stopped by again.

      October 11, 2011
      • Of course, I like your writing and thoughts. Blessings!

        October 12, 2011
  2. anneliese #

    You reminded me of a quote I can’t quite “quote” now but it says something about how can we know where we are going if we do not know where we come from.
    Profound thoughts here .. . the need to remember the past .. to set up our Ebenezers, so to say . . . is important. I was near moved to tears …
    I am so thankful with you for the recent good news.

    October 11, 2011
    • I’m so glad this encouraged you! You sure encouraged me with your hospitality. The soup is incredible and I definitely need the recipe – I assume in the MGCC book? Not to mention that’s some of the best bread I’ve ever eaten. Thanks so much for blessing our family this weekend. I think I know what quote you are referring to, though the details escape me right now as well. It’s so true. Our direction for the future comes, at least in part, from our past.

      October 11, 2011

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