giving thanks is not a crime.
In the airport after the flight delay the Jewish woman next to me
offers me two latkes wrapped in an oil-soaked napkin and rests her head
on my shoulder. She wants to visit her granddaughters for the holiday
but is afraid that now she will be too late to see their smiling faces.
In the sharp cheekbones of her gnarled face, the Holocaust
is nowhere to be seen. Only love. Only tiredness. Only her grandchildren,
whom she gives thanks for today and has every right to do so
even as the ghosts of lost grandchildren in the camps still walk the earth.
The child from Rwanda fidgeting in his father’s lap next to the vending machine
has eyelids so tiny two pennies could rest on each
like the closed eyes of the dead, but the genocide that killed his mother
and left the raised, ropy scar on his father’s left bicep
does not shine like a floodlight from both pupils. Only life. Only joy.
Today, his life and the life of his father are something to be thankful for.
A flight attendant props herself against the terminal door
eating a frozen Thanksgiving dinner with a plastic fork,
nametag says her last name is Whitecrow. I inquire of the origin
and she speaks with excitement of her Native American heritage,
spooning turkey into her mouth at the same time,
exclaiming over how happy she is to come home for the holiday
that for her means family and friendship, not extermination
or the Trail of Tears. She has made it into her own
without forgetting her ancestors and their struggles.
The Kurdish-speaking elderly Syrian man staring up at the electronic
departing flight screen is gesturing widely to his young wife
standing beside him, showing any passersby a photograph
of his smiling, cherub-faced newborn baby girl
waiting for him at home in the arms of his mother.
He mentions nothing of chemical weapons or “honour killings.”
Just thankfulness and the smell of his house, kebabs and hummus,
even as the wreckage outside the walls curls around every window,
even as his dead brother, a soldier, never leaves the back of his mind.
And when the delay is finally over, my mouth is filled with latkes,
my head with beautiful languages and gratefulness
for this extraordinarily different group of people
who may be coming home to bullets and restricted zones,
or high-end apartments and comfortable beds,
but doorways filled with love all the same, and not one of them
has been solely bound by their difficult histories
like butterflies pinned to a stained mounting board.
They are not their histories.
They celebrate separately yet together.
They are allowed to give thanks too-
giving thanks does not mean they have forgotten their ancestors or their pain.
It is not a crime for them to be grateful despite the ruins of their pasts.
Their holiday may not be your holiday, but that does not mean
it cannot be recognized as one.
History does not define people. People define history.