Thanksgiving Suite

Two Thanks-giving Stories

There was a contest on the radio. Write or speak your gratitude on this Thanksgiving. What are you grateful for? the radio announcer asked. Send in your story.

I heard the winners. It was a tie. Two women, one from California, one from Massachusetts.

First, the woman from California spoke. She was a sheep rancher, she raised sheep on a ranch in California. Her father before her worked the ranch. The ranch had been in her family for several generations.

She was, I imagine, a woman in her late forties. Her husband now also worked the ranch, along with her eighty year old father. They all lived right there on the ranch.

She spoke of the difficulties in running such an enterprise these days. The cost of harvesting and processing the wool is for the first time greater than what it can be sold for, in addition to which there has been five years of drought in her area. “There’s dust in everything,” she said, “and the grazing land is parched and cracked,” her flocks thin and diminished, her father old and tired, herself and her husband frustrated.

I waited for the punch line. What was she grateful for on this Thanksgiving? I wondered.

The night before telling her story, it rained. It rained an inch and a half. The dust liquified back into the earth, the earth smoothed and healed off some of its cracks, but this was not the source of her gratitude. Certainly all the difficulties of running a sheep ranch in these days were not solved by an inch and a half of rain. This was a bonus, a sign, a clue, but not a solution, not even a temporary one, it may have been a joke: God writes straight with crooked lines. Rain, as if that would make a difference.

What was she grateful for had to do with her tired 80 year old father who has seen so many seasons come and go on the ranch, something to do with herself and her husband working the family ranch scouting the sky week after week, month after month, year after year for rain. It had to do with the shared judgment about their business which is fragile, outdated, bound up with the shared destiny of one family, one plot of land, one generation after another, being in that thing together, the tenderness as she described her father waddling into the farmhouse after a long day of work and the brave possibility that the ranch would yet turn a profit somehow. Another season. The possibility, the hope of a future, measured not only in rain but in the dignity of these human beings who hope, who imagine it working, again — for the sacred possibility of the future — hope, hope, hope. Hope sustains.

The second woman tied for first prize in the radio contest. She was from Massachusetts, a Jewish woman I imagined, from her name, from her brand of humor. She was very funny. About the same age as the other woman, late forties. This was her story: It has been almost a year since he died, she began, and still she hasn’t set up a tombstone for him. It was a marriage no one thought would work — he had been married 3 times previously, she several times herself. Neither looking to get married ever again, they met. Against all advice, against their own better judgment and plans for living, they married anyway. Out of the chaos of two lives and ex-wives and kids and step kids and recriminations they found deep love, love that outlasted the complexities of their lives, and tamed them both.

She spoke her story touching, funny, sad. A year after they married, he was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, given not much hope for even another year. He lived six, living with cancer, with dignity and joy and living more deeply than ever before because everything was so precious. Every moment.

Now he was gone. She was broke. Public aid in Massachusetts had all but dried up. She had not been able to find full time work, she was substitute teaching in Boston. What was she grateful for? I was waiting to hear.

This: first, many friends. They called her regularly and invited her to meals, she usually declined but loved the invitations. Someone brought over a load of firewood to heat her wood burning stove as winter came on. She was grateful because she had felt her heart unlock to life so freely that it would never close again, the great gift of love that changed her permanently.

The last thing she said: I’m alone, broke, but not unhappy, not in the least afraid. As a matter of fact, I’m rather content, she said, because I believe something, my little way of thinking about things, that may sound wacky but I really believe this —

I think of him as if he has gone away somewhere ahead of me, as if to find the perfect apartment, you know something near a bookstore, where there is a cafe that serves fresh raspberries all year round. He has gone there ahead of me to find the perfect place for us, she said. I am as certain of this as I am of anything: we will meet again, and because I believe this, I am full of gratitude this Thanksgiving, content and not at all afraid of the future. Everything is possible when you believe in something.

These are the two American stories of gratitude that I heard on the radio just before Thanksgiving.

I listened and then I wrote my own tale of gratitude. It had to do, like the ones I had heard, with loving somebody, with what I believe that gets me through the long nights, with a vague sense of possibility that everything is going to be all right, of hope, I suppose, that accompanies all our lives like a sense of something fine arriving from the distance, something good, hope, that’s it.

In the distance, it’s God you are discerning, or love, or nature, or whatever it is you believe in that animates your life. This is what you are hearing bearing down on you:

be grateful, it’s going to work out, somehow
It’s going to be just fine.

james stone goodman
united states of america

Thanksgiving Suite

A small Thanks-giving Prayer

1. Personal Installation

A small thanks-giving
for the common gifts of your life
the expected ones
the ones you receive if you live with others
your family
a livelihood
the works of your hands
the good you have done in the world
the good done you
these first fruits
the model from the first Thanksgiving
when the Pilgrims and others
brought down the Biblical festival
Sukkot as their guide:

When you enter the land, [Deut.26:1-3]
go to the holy man,
take baskets of first fruits,
go where God tells you.
Give your baskets to the holy man,
then – tell him what happened, in brief:
we have been lost, we are coming home.
End the story with gratitude
for having been brought to this place.

Bow down and sit together with
the holy ones
and the strangers among you.
Have a meal together.

Set up large stones,
inscribe the teachings,
every word,
on the stones.

Today you have become a people of
Live in that for a long time.

2. Thanks-giving Installation

When they entered the land, they were grateful, the Pilgrims.
They landed December 11, 1620, the first winter devastating —
46 of the original 102 who sailed on the Mayflower

There was no thanksgiving that first winter. If there had been
a way back, I imagine a good number of them would have taken it,

But when you’re in the thick of it, when you wonder if
there are better days ahead
that’s the time for thanks-giving
when it’s the least likely emotion —

The next year — they had a bountiful harvest
they celebrated the first successful harvest
with a meal
they only had to wait a year
I imagine it was a long year
but by that second year —
a great harvest, the earth
had been waiting in incipient
fecundity for tending, respect,
intimacy. The survivors celebrated
with a feast, the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims
ate together at Plymouth Massachusetts. The
Pilgrims invited 91 Natives who helped the Pilgrims
after the shock of the first winter.

I haven’t been there – to Plymouth Massachusetts
I have been to Plymouth Michigan
Next to where I grew up
I used to wonder —
why is it called Plymouth?
What pride is there in this story —

3. How Plymouth Michigan got its Name

The first settlers in Michigan met 25 miles west of Detroit
February 26, 1827, the downtown then was officially called
Podunk. Podunk was already the term for a mythical American
Town, derived from a group of natives who settled
around the Podunk river in Connecticut.
Podunk became code for small American town
throughout the century
the Buffalo Daily National Pilot newspaper ran
Letters from Podunk — a series beginning January 5, 1846.

The north end of Plymouth town was called Joppa
A Biblical reference to the port near Tel Aviv
somebody suggested Peking as a name for the town
their first choice was LeRoy
— but those names were taken
some of the early settlers came from Plymouth
so they called it Plymouth, Michigan.

We live in a great country.

4. Big Tent Country

Full of goofy stories
Big feelings
Thanks and thanks-giving emanating
from Plymouth Massachusetts
second winter

in St. Louis, Missouri, where I sit down
I tell it to the wind with our hair wound long
Passing the story stick to craft and memory
Claiming the tale for honor and delight
And the last taste
as taught by the elders
who wrote it on a wall
read it by flames
beginning in stillness
concluding in gratitude
come home brothers and sisters
you may dig yourselves permanent wells here
without fear
you may feel
like you have never known
live in that for a long

and for this Thanks-giving —
you may be as the Hebrew Bible holds
ach sameach [Deut. 16:15]
in your fest-iv-al time


jsg, usa

Thanksgiving Suite

from The Case for Mendicants

Before Thanksgiving one year
Junior said, let’s invite a beggar to eat with us.
We don’t know any beggars, said Mother,
a mendicant is no longer an honorable profession.
Father said, We don’t know any poor people at all,
do we dear? How about a stranger?
They called Leon,
friend of monastics, beggars, and mountebanks.

I’ll send someone, said Leon.
The night of Thanksgiving
all around the table they went
each expressing thanks
and a wish, if only one were given.

Health, someone said right off,
money – honest from a kid,
a nice son-in-law, a good school for the children,
a brand new carpenter’s bench with new tools.
Then the beggar man’s turn:

I wish I were a powerful king
of a large important country.
One night, they would invade my country
conquer my palace with no resistance from my guards.

I would be awakened from a deep sleep
with no time to dress.
I would escape in my nightshirt.
Fleeing over hills, through a valley,

I would arrive right here, to this house,
and I would be sitting here with this family,
right now. This is my wish.

That’s nice, Father said,
but what good would that do you?

I’d have a night shirt,
the beggar man said.


Thanksgiving Suite

I Am A Turkey Merchant
[Good To Know St**]

This may be obvious but
Turkeys (the fowls) are named
In English
After the country

They are indigenous to this continent

In Hebrew, we call them hodu
Accent on first syllable
Referring to the country of India.

In French they are called dinde
A corruption of d’Inde
From India.

What gives?

Some time in the mid sixteenth
The British named the bird Turkey
Thinking it resembled the
Guinea fowl
Which they associated with a trade
Of the eastern Mediterranean
— thus Turkey.

I began by the way
As a guinea trader
In the eastern Mediterranean
As did many of my ancestors —
I am a turkey merchant.

Benjamin Franklin thought
Turkey should be our national bird
Rather than the eagle
Smarter [??]
And indigenous — he said.

Other cultures linked the Turkey bird
To India in addition to Hebrew
In Arabic diiq hindi – Indian rooster
Polish indyk from India
Russia indjuk
Yiddish indik
Adjective indish —

The bird from India
Reflecting an Old World point of view
Imagining the bird as a animal
— The exotic East
Even in Turkish it is

A kind of generic exoticism
Of place.

Another theory —
Traced back to another one of my ancestors
Luis de Torres
The translator on Columbus’s ship
He spotted a large wild bird
with a head and body like a peacock.
The male even had a feathered display.

Luis familiar with Biblical Hebrew
Unfamiliar with large ungainly birds
Called the bird a tukki
[see I Kings 10:22 and II Chronicle 9:21]
(we use that for parrot)
Which became corrupted into

It’s good to know sh**.

Toldot, part 2

O Shabbes Toldot, part 2
Maqam Mahour*

*Mahour is used only twice, on Toldot and Balak.
Mahour means disappointed, or angered — Esau and Balak are disappointed.
It is a higher pitched form of maqam Rast.

Every Shabbat is associated with a maqam, a musical figure. Maqam is Arabic cognate for maqom (Hebrew) signifying Place.

And these are the generations [toldt] of Isaac Abraham’s son,
Abraham begot Isaac. [Gen. 25:19]

Isaac is Abraham’s son
how Isaac authenticates his life –
he is Abraham’s son.
Abraham begot Isaac
how Abraham authenticates his life –
he is the father of Isaac.

The word generations toldot is written half haser (partial).

Was it not enough that each of them
father and son, derived his worth from the other?
When one of them was haser/lacking,
he could fill up with the other.

I love you enough, said Abraham, I love you enough
I give you the gift of my love
when you cannot find it in yourself.
I love you that much.

I love you enough, said Isaac,
to give you the gift of my love
when you cannot find it in yourself
I give it to you
I love you that much.

I told my children –
I love you that much
whatever you cannot find in yourself
you may fill your emptiness
from me.


Toldot part 1

O Shabbes Toldot pt. 1

Maqam Mahour

Mahour is used only twice, on Toldot and Balak.
Mahour means disappointed, or angered,
As when Esau and Balak are disappointed.
It is a higher pitched form of maqam Rast.

Every Shabbat is associated with a maqam, a musical figure.
Maqam is Arabic cognate for maqom (Hebrew) signifying Place.

If so why
[Genesis 25:22]
it hurts too much for complete sentences
two worlds struggling within her
one world actually
one world split in two.

We’re working on it —
bringing them back together
been working on it for the last
three, four thousand years.

She goes to inquire of God
this is the second most important word in the Torah
lidrosh – to inquire [25:22]
to explain
make up a story
fill in the spaces
the white fire.
First use.

Rashi says she goes to inquire
at the beit ha-midrash
the study hall of Shem and Ever
quoting the Targum Yonatan.
She goes to the study center
where she finds you over a text —
we are all in the beit midrash
the house of explication
all the time.

Rebecca stepped out of the story
and finds the future
she walks through a mirror
to enter the inquiry of students —
she comes to the Beit Midrash
where we are all sitting.

It’s her request that is so difficult.
She is asking for some significance to her suffering.
Im zeh lamah zeh anokhi
if this, why. . .this. . .me. . .
She actually gets what she asks for:
a larger me.

Her story expands — two nations are struggling within you [25:23]
we howl at her
she gets what she asks for, a context for her suffering.
She gets it in the beit midrash
forever we will associate suffering
with learning.

Rebecca steps out of her own story comes and joins our circle.
Our circle is oracular and redemptive.
Why? Because it teaches meaning.
The response to suffering becomes learning
and –
suffering is an inadvertent teacher.

jsg, usa