Persona non gratitude

Credit: Shadow Sculpture by Tim Noble and Sue Webster

Many years ago I met a Mom from Colorado Springs who donated the heart of her young son as a life-saving transplant . Typically, the donor family does not know who receives the organ, but in this case, the recipient of her son’s heart was a patient at the same hospital. The mother told me that she had put two and two together (in this case one and one together) and realized that her son’s heart, which was packed in ice, had only gone out one door and then into another door of the same hospital. I reached out to this mother because I had read in the paper that her son’s name was Caleb and I wondered if she knew that in Hebrew the name Caleb means “from the heart.” She didn’t, and was taken by the synchronicity.

In general, organ donations are kept anonymous or at least for a period of time, recipients and donors or donor families are not given contact information. The main reasons for keeping organ donation anonymous is to not burden the recipient with guilt or to feel obligated to the donor or donor family. There is one type of organ donation where the donor is typically revealed; the transplant of a face. Since 2005 there have been a few dozen successful face transplants and many of these recipients and donor families know each other. Perhaps when receiving someone else’s face it is only natural that the recipient wants to know “whose face am I wearing?”

If you were in need of a transplanted organ would you want to know the identity of your donor? Those recipients who are in favor of agencies revealing donor identity, express the desire to share their gratitude. Can we feel gratitude in the same way when we cannot direct gratitude to a specified source? The flip side of this question is feeling that our contribution, while appreciated, cannot be acknowledged personally. Your vote certainly counts, but as an anonymous declaration you don’t expect a thank you note.

How can we further our awareness and practice of gratitude this week of Thanksgiving? Practice giving thanks to those who are anonymous to us. We used to have, even in our urban settings, relationships with service people who were simply doing their jobs. Now these workers give anonymously. For the next few weeks, and you may need to be creative, leave a thank you note for all those delivery or pick up people you may never meet but are dutifully bringing you packages or collecting your garbage, recycling or compost. Our neighbors leave (left-over Halloween) candy on their porch for delivery people to take if they want over the holidays.

I mentioned in a previous blog that I inquired from the man who stands asking for money, on one of the busy intersections I pass by daily, his name. As little as I help him, he gifts me with the opportunity to dig into my pocket and dig into my capacity for non-judgment and kindness. After we exchanged names and I gave him some money, I saw him smile for the first time. He was no longer anonymous.

If you and I can practice transforming those anonymous givers into appreciated people, then all the more so we can increase our sense of gratitude for those known people who give to us.

Happy Thanksgiving,



Lura Williams · November 22, 2018 at 12:03 pm

And so–AMEN!

Myra Rieger · November 22, 2018 at 9:07 pm

I do appreciate your article David! We all need a reminder to be grateful and appreciate everyone we come in contact with! Thank you so much!!! Xo, Myra

Anita Khaldy Kehmeier · November 23, 2018 at 6:20 pm

What Are You Doing To Decolonize Thanksgiving This Year?
Here we go again! It’s time to Decolonize Thanksgiving.
I wrote this blog to update you on some of my thinking about Decolonizing Thanksgiving, and to shamelessly crowdsource some new ideas from you about how to begin to incorporate “new” traditions into one of America’s favorite holidays.
To begin with, here are 3 easy things you can do to Decolonize Thanksgiving:
Honor the Indigenous Peoples on whose land you live. If you don’t know, you can easily research this information at this website.
Eat food Indigenous to America. Really, they are our favorite foods anyway. They are corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, bell pepper, pumpkin, venison, turkey, fish — all the good stuff. Here are some amazing recipes from the former head chef of the Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.
Recognize and recap the real story of Thanksgiving to your friends and family.

Indigenous Thanksgiving Foods served at the Pequot Museum, photo credit, Rachael Cerotti
There are many more things you can do to decolonize Thanksgiving. Over the past two years, I have been Decolonizing Thanksgiving by bringing people around the table to honor and recognize the truth of the holiday. I first wrote about how to do it in the 2016 blog, 3 ways to Decolonize Thanksgiving. Last year, I co-hosted a second Decolonize Thanksgiving meal made with ingredients native to Central Coast California where I live, that you can read about in the 2017 post, How to Indigenize Thanksgiving.
And, there are so many other things you can do, such as:

Educate your family members about colonization in America. Here’s a great lecture you can watch or listen to by Michael Yellowbird.
Stand up to teachers indoctrinating young minds with racist activities, like dressing up as Indians and making feather headdresses. Here’s a great resource teachers can use to teach about Thanksgiving from the National Museum of the American Indian.
Finally, this year I want to address the people in your life who might question your goal to Decolonize Thanksgiving. First of all, Thanksgiving doesn’t lie on hollowed ground. It is a relatively new holiday, proclaimed a day of “thanksgiving and peace” by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 as a way to bring together Americans divided by the Civil War. Here’s a great story about the origins of the holiday.

1863 Battle of Chikamauga, 2 months before Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation
In America today, some would argue that we need more holidays where we can stop to reflect on what brings us together as a country. During my fascinating discussion about Thanksgiving with Native educator, Chris Newell, I learned that the actual feasting aspect of Thanksgiving is deeply rooted in Indigenous traditions.

So, let’s keep feasting. But, we can also take time with our families and friends to recognize our deep divides, the ongoing racism against people of color, the ongoing erasure of Indigenous Peoples, and patent denial that the wealth of this country was (and still is) based on stolen land and slave labor that divides us by class, race, region, and culture.
It’s hard to change a holiday; I understand. You may encounter naysayers at the table, people who will accuse you of being strange, make fun of you for being woke, or call you an old hippy when you say: “Let’s take a moment to think about the real history of Thanksgiving, and why we have what we have to be thankful for.”
Social change isn’t made overnight. We are the beginning of a movement. And I am confident that most Americans will celebrate a Decolonized Thanksgiving within a generation or two. I’ll be proud to tell my grandkids someday that I was at the forefront of the movement.
Please share with us, what are you planning to do to Decolonize Thanksgiving this year?

Anita Khaldy Kehmeier · November 26, 2018 at 9:50 am

Pavlos Stavropoulos
November 22 at 3:29 PM ·
Below is an edited version of something I wrote four years ago. It still speaks to how I feel about this day. However you are spending today, feast or fast, with loved ones or alone, I hope you greet every day with fierce love, gratitude, and solidarity with all who strive for liberation.
Racism. Police brutality. Climate disasters. Never ending war. Anti-immigrant policies. Islamophobia. Relentless attacks on the media. Refugees drowning in the mediterranean while looking for some hope of a future. Austerity. Mass shootings. Rise of fascism, white nationalism, and religious fundamentalism. State and corporate surveillance. Rape and sexual assault. The silencing of women. Homophobia and transphobia and the violence that accompanies it. Indiscriminate suppression of dissent. The list of news that can, and do, depress us and infuriate us seems to have no end. And today is thanksgiving in the USA, a day when we are supposed to give thanks for what we have, a day with its own very ugly history and context, a history that is still very much part of the present for indigenous peoples. While for many this is a time to spend with family and loved ones, family itself can be a source of pain and hurt, some old some still fresh, for a lot of people. Finding gratitude in the midst of all this can be, at best, a challenge.
Yet, it is precisely in the midst of all this that we need to remind ourselves what we are grateful for, otherwise we can just fall into a permanent state of cynicism, resentment, fear, and anger. While these are understandable emotions and especially fear and anger can help motivate us to work for change, I generally find them not very good places in which to establish permanent residence.
A few months [now years] ago I was at Woodbine talking with a friend who is doing a lot of work in support of political prisoners, frankly an area where good news is not the norm. As we were talking about the stress and tension that she felt we walked outside under the night sky. Away from lights, we looked up to see the stars and the milky way. We fell silent for a moment appreciative of the beauty above us and around us. It is at times like this that I am reminded that despite all the ugliness that we regularly encounter, it is beauty that is the norm in our universe. Many times this beauty is hidden from us. Often we forget to look for it or fail to recognize it. And sometimes, like that night, we need to step deeper into the darkness in order to see it. But it is always there, always around us, always waiting to welcome us, to remind us that we aren’t in the struggle to fight the ugliness of the world but to restore and enhance its beauty.
So today, like every day, I am grateful for the beauty of the world. I am grateful for this earth and all that she provides for us. I am grateful for the indigenous peoples who welcomed the strange newcomers on their land and shared with them its bounty. I am grateful for the indigenous peoples who fought and continue to fight and resist those who don’t show gratitude in response but try to conquer, control and own beauty and land and people as if they are not the gifts of the world but commodities to be used or resources to be exploited. I am grateful for all the people, past, present and future, here and everywhere, who continue to fight and resist oppression, domination, and exploitation and work to bring forward a world where everyone is free. I am grateful for the artists, the writers, the poets, the musicians in our midst who remind us what it means to be human. I am grateful for the healers who give everything they have (and sometimes too much) to try to put the pieces of us back together. I am grateful for the workers who have built everything that we get to use in our daily lives. I am grateful for the farmers and all the people who make sure that we have food. I am grateful for the teachers amongst us. I am grateful for all the radical queers who keep showing me what love and life can look like when we let go of the binary and dance. I am grateful for all the people who history has ignored or forgotten but who contributed in their own small and significant way towards a better world for future generations. I am grateful for my parents and their parents and all of my ancestors who made it possible for me to exist today. I am grateful for my kids, my family, my friends, my coworkers, and all my fellow travelers on this fascinating journey of ours.
And I am grateful for the sea and the night sky for never failing to remind me that beauty is all around us.

Anita Khaldy Kehmeier · November 29, 2018 at 1:22 pm

Hildegard of Bingen described prayer as nothing but the inhaling and exhaling of the one breath of the universe.

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