Pilgrim Cat is new to me, borrowed from the library a week ago. I liked it. It's a sweet book about a girl who traveled here on the Mayflower and the cat she adopted. It was also a gentle reminder of the stark truth that more than half of the Pilgrims who came here on the Mayflower died that first winter, and that the harvest celebration the following autumn was held by a much smaller group than the one that had arrived the previous year. It was a group touched profoundly by loss and suffering...and yet they still found a way to praise God and give thanks.
Maybe I - and many that I know - have more in common with that ragtag group of travelers than I've realized. Four years ago, Thanksgiving felt impossible to me. A week prior, for the second time in eight months, we said good-bye to a baby lost during pregnancy, and entered the world of recurrent pregnancy loss. Thanksgiving became my enemy. I couldn't wait for it to be over. I survived the holiday, but that is all. I was acutely aware of the number of chairs around the table, the number of high chairs, and where my missing children should have been. I survived, but that is all.
I wonder if some of the early Pilgrims felt the same way. Acutely aware of who was missing from each family, the parents or children who should have been there. If anyone had the right to say, "What do we have to be thankful for?", it seems like it would have been them. Persecuted for their faith, a history of fleeing not just one, but two countries seeking the freedom to worship God, and then reaching their promised land only to see their numbers decimated by illness by more than half. And yet, they persevered, and they saw God's hand in their survival, so much so that they would publicly proclaim that in their harvest celebration.
Four years down the road from beginning the journey of pregnancy loss, I can see God's hand as well. It was difficult at first, nearly impossible in the darkest of days. But as time went on, I could see His blessings in the people He sent my way, many of them survivors as well. I can see His hand at work in the physical healing He provided for me, in the fellowship of shared suffering I have found with other mommies of babies in Heaven, in the comfort of Scripture when I floundered in my faith.
Like the Pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving, like so many others today struggling with life, I am a survivor. I wish I'd seen the connection in 2009, when Thanksgiving felt like the enemy, crafted to pour salt in the wounds of missing my babies. Instead, tonight I'm seeing it as the gentle companion of others touched by suffering and loss, helping us to take a moment to collect our thoughts, to consider how God has sustained us when we thought we would surely die from heartache, and to look to the future with courage and hope.
I am certain that tears were a part of that first Thanksgiving. How could they not be? They have been regularly part of mine for years now, without shame. Because ultimately Thanksgiving is not for the food, the football games, or even the family. It is for a bunch of survivors, leaning on God to get them through the worst of times, and trusting that even when they can't see their way to tomorrow, He will get them there.