On “Columbus Day” I celebrate Indigenous Peoples, on Christmas I celebrate Yule, and while others give thanks today I will be joining in, but with my awareness on the Displaced People around the world. That’s the true meaning of Thanksgiving to me, both with regard to the pilgrims when they came to America, and now as well with the Natives who have subsequently been displaced as a result of those settlements and my nation’s sordid history.
It’s not as simple as just giving thanks though, at least not for me. This holiday is one of the most gruesome and difficult, because this awareness of truth I soulfully maintain thrusts my consciousness into acceptance of all the evil humanity is capable of (as well as the good).
Does it lift people’s spirits? Does it make for great conversations? Is it trendy, popular or fun? No, it is none of those things we’ve been groomed to expect from our Holy Days, but it is a Holy Day none the less.
My grandmother was taken from her childhood home at just 9 years old. Sent to live in a “starvation camp” with her grandmother, brother and cousin, none of them would ever make it back to that house again.
My great grandmother Anna did indeed starve to death in that camp. My grandmother waking in her cold, stiff arms one day when she was just 12. Anna had been holding the tiny, malnourished girl as she had slept, and my grandmother had to cry out for someone to help her escape her own grandmother’s rigor mortis.
My own fortune began long before my birth or even my mother’s birth, when that brave, malnourished little girl dared to escape that camp – and did. She made it out alive, and this began her official journey as a displaced person, eventually leading her and her remaining family to seek refuge in America when she was 17.
Honoring the Pain
My grandmother is my hero. Her grandmother too, and I am so proud to bare her namesake as a part of my own (why I prefer MayryANNA to just Mayry).
I come from an incredible lineage of strong, caring and brave women. My great grandmother would serve the little bit of moldy bread they recieved in the camp as a gruel to the children before herself, and that sacrifice alone enabled my grandmother’s survival. To this day my grandmother recalls her innocence of not knowing what was happening when her own grandmother “scraped out the bowl” in order to feed herself after serving the kids.
My own grandmother has since gone on to make Anna so proud: making it through the hiding and unknowns of her displacement, coming to a new country and learning a new language, building a life and a family in North America, overcoming again and again. Yet, my grandma, in all her strength and success, is still displaced.
She will never return home. The trauma and great loss of her young life has scarred and scared her. One of my sister’s is now a missionary in Northern Macedonia (used to be Yugoslavia when my grandmother was a child) and has visited the town where my grandmother grew up – but my grandma is worried that if she ever went back to Eastern Europe they won’t let her leave (given her experiences, that of course makes sense, even despite the actual probabilities), so she refuses to visit.
It hurts me to see the repercussions of humanity’s evil still affecting my grandmother decades after her traumatic displacement. Yet, in honoring her, I must also be grateful.
I have never been displaced myself. I have grown up strong and proud as an United States Citizen, and I have enjoyed the perks of that designation my entire life.
Here in Colorado, I live on land once claimed by the Ute peoples and feel their lingering presence daily. I’ve found a rough carving of a bear that is somehow attuned to stand only when looking at a neighboring mountain (a highly charged site I suspect was considered holy or sacred), taking notice of hobbled trees and trying to find the ancient paths they once marked.
This is my home, now, but it is not only my home. It is and has been so much more, to so many more – and it will always be more. In a way, we humans are all displaced, we are all seeking a safe home and the opportunity to flourish on land stolen from our ancestors and borrowed from our children.
The land remains, yes, but so do the crimes. The memories, the traumas and the pain – all of that gets passed on too. Which is why I choose to remember, especially on this day: freedom isn’t free, true love does the tough thing and peace is hard won (often by heros in grandmother’s clothing).