Today’s story is from long ago, 1682 as a matter of fact. Much has been written about the first Thanksgiving and the debt and gratitude owed to the Native Americans who helped the struggling European settlers who were new to this land.
A little known story is of the Quaker William Penn who came from England in the 1600’s to escape severe religious persecution (he’d been thrown in prison twice already for his beliefs). His dream was to form a unique community of religious tolerance and inclusion in the new world, the first of its kind in the history of humankind.
The Lenape Native American tribe was already living on the land where Penn wanted to settle.
Before starting out on his journey across the sea, Penn wrote eloquently and respectfully to the Lenape, insisting that his words be meticulously translated into their language:
“I am very sensible of the unkindness and injustice that hath been too much exercised toward you by the people of these parts of the world, which I hear hath been a matter of trouble to you and caused great grudgings and animosities, sometimes to the shedding of blood … But I am not such a man …”
In his letter, Penn went further, and surprised the Lenape with words utterly unexpected:
Instead of simply announcing his upcoming arrival, Penn respectfully requested the Lenape’s consent. He asked if they would consent for him come, to put down new roots and to bring others who would also make a new home in this land, to create a new city, Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love (Greek: Phileo – “love” and Adelphos – “brotherly”):
“I desire to enjoy it with your love and consent, that we may always live together as neighbors and friends.”
As a result of his beautiful expression of purpose for unity, the Lenape welcomed Penn when he arrived.
Penn attended their Councils, studied and learned their Lenape language in less than a year so he could communicate with them directly, without the cumbersome intervention of a translator. He won their trust. Penn paid the Lenape for their land and only took land that was agreeably paid for.
Inspired by Penn, Tamanend, the Chief of the Lenape, studied and learned English and refused to participate in any campaign waged by the Iroquois to drive out the Europeans.
It turns out the Quakers and the Lenape had much in common. Just as the Lenape believed they had a kinship with all things, Quakers believed in universal brotherhood derived through the spark of the divine, or Inner Light, within all people.
As a sign of their mutual trust, Penn and Tamanend together signed a beautiful peace treaty in a remarkable ceremony by the banks of the Delaware River. There, in the Lenape language, Penn said:
“We meet on the broad pathway of good faith and good will; no advantage shall be taken on either side, but all shall be openness and love … We are the same as if one man’s body was to be divided into two parts; we are all one flesh and blood.”
Tamanend, the Chief of the Lenape replied:
“We and Christians of this river have always had a free roadway to one another. Though sometimes a tree has fallen across the road, yet we have still removed it again and kept the path clean and we design to continue the old friendship that has been between us.
“We will live in love with Onas (Penn’s Indian name) and his children as long as the creeks and rivers run and while the sun, moon, and stars endure.”
As a result, the Native Americans and the European settlers in this area enjoyed an unparalleled 70 years of unbroken peaceful relations, trade and co-existence.
The only thing that really divides people is an inability to respectfully communicate. It’s not our beliefs, our differences, our desires, or our cultures, but our inability to respectfully and successfully exchange ideas about them.
When you are able to communicate, you can’t be divided.
A person with a real ability to communicate is empowered to cross over to different cultures, different convictions and faiths, and make real friends and allies, to create a world where you are helping others and they are helping you. Where real exchange begins.
William Penn was such a man. And so was Tamanend, Chief of the Lenape.
These men are living examples that with the ability to communicate comes a real exchange of ideas and, with that, we are able to create real understandings, with which we can create unity and union. We are able to unite our existences, unite our efforts, unite our powers, unite our minds, unite our spirits, unite our hearts. Unite our forces.
To me that’s what Thanksgiving is all about. Spending time with those with whom we enjoy the most fulfilling communication, the deepest emotional and spiritual unions, with those special people with whom we can communicate and who most nourish our hearts and our souls. Enjoying the blessings successful communication and human relations bring.
I wish you a very beautiful Thanksgiving. I personally am very grateful for you. Every time I reach out and communicate and know that my communication has been received, I feel a well of gratitude. Thank you for being there.