November is a month of Remembrance. Last weekend we honored the Ancestors and other departed loved ones. This week we remember the veterans who have served our country in peacetime and war. Later in the month Thanksgiving arrives with its complex patina of memory, culture and meaning.
November in Vermont brings dark gray skies and dramatic swings in temperature. There are few sunny days, night comes early, and the snow line slowly moves down the mountains. Here by the lake the wind has a bite when it comes from the west or northwest. As a result, we burn wood in the wood stove more often as the month and the cold advance.
The longer nights and deepening chill encourage us to turn inward, physically and spiritually, and the idea of hibernation becomes more inviting. As the month progresses the spirits seem to gather around the hearth; this is a time for sharing stories, personal, sacred and profane. It is a good time for remembering and appreciating those who made our lives possible, and pondering our role as bridges between the generations.
I mark my birthday in November. This year we are blessed by the arrival of another grandchild. I am pleased to have our birthdays fall in close proximity, perhaps one day we will celebrate together.
Tuesday is Veterans’ Day. My father’s side of the family has held warriors. My father served in three wars, and my favorite cousin, a kind and generous man, was a Marine. Other family members also served proudly in the military, although I believe each kept his Native identity to himself. (While both of my father’s parents were Native, his birth certificate lists him as Caucasian, an act of erasure that also offered refuge.) My father was a lifer, serving for over thirty years. Only towards the end of his life did he speak about the futility of war, and his disappointment that the military did not truly acknowledge his service. Not until the end of his life did he tell us of his pride in being Native, even then he did not break the family silence about our tribal identity.
My father loved Thanksgiving, yet often expressed vague reservations about it. He was the family chef, and spent hours, spread over a few days, preparing the feast. As I have grown older, Thanksgiving has become an increasingly difficult holiday. I like to imagine he wrestled with many of the qualms that nag me. I wonder: how has it come to pass that Native people are recognized for our generosity to the settlers, yet virtually nothing is said about the genocide against us that followed? How are we to approach a holiday that all to often celebrated the destruction of our cultures and people?
Thanksgiving is a few weeks away, Remembrance Day and Veterans’ Day are at hand. Our ancestors struggled to survive so they and we, their imagined future, might have life. Sometimes they fought one another, and many of us carry these struggles and conflicts in our genes, the ancestors whispering in our minds and conflicts raging in our blood. It is good to remember the sacrifices of the ancestors, to hold the complexity inherent in conflict, to feel their watchful presence, and to remember their generosity and humor. It is a blessing to feel the presence of those waiting to be born, and to have an opportunity to build a world that might welcome and nurture them.
As we settle into the deepening darkness and chill of this eleventh month, may we share the stories (cultural, personal, and familial) we hold of those who came before us. May we speak of our own struggles and joys and dream together of a world that will welcome those who are yet to be born. May remembrance create the possibility of renewal.