Gratitude and Mary Chilton
Did you enjoy Thanksgiving? We had such a good time I can’t quite let go, though neighbors are putting up Christmas lights. In part, it reflects respect for the Pilgrims and their underfunded venture that grew into the world’s greatest democracy and economy. There’s a bit of Pilgrim in all of us, you know. Demographers estimate there are now 35 million Mayflowerdescents. Our family traces to Mary Chilton, orphaned at 13 when her parents died aboard the Mayflower. I think of her each Thanksgiving and of Pilgrim gratitude for that first harvest, needed to survive the looming New England winter. We live today amidst unprecedented plenty, all the more reason to express gratitude.
It’s counter-intuitive, but the benefit of expressing gratitude is greatest for those who possess the least. Studies show the practice of gratitude triggers a positive feedback loop of good feelings. There are other benefits, of health, in our careers, in managing the stress of life, and appreciating those we love. Do you keep a gratitude journal? The Beautiful Wife, a believer in the practice, finds that looking for the good in life centers her and increases happiness. To prepare for Thanksgiving, she kept a gratitude journal for November.
Before gratitude lists became popular, there was a hymn, “Count Your Blessings.” The hymn is more than a list, for it invites contemplation. And the point wasn’t the acquisition of more but of appreciation, a call “to see what God hath done.” The hymn promises the attendance of angels that “help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.” There’s a lesson in the hymn, a portending of gifts that help to transcend life’s difficulties.
It’s normal to desire happiness, but it can be elusive. The “paradox of hedonism,” you’ll recall, says you can’t achieve lasting pleasure or happiness by chasing after it. Rather, happiness descends in subtle ways, in unexpected moments along life’s journey, often when you’re helping others. The story of the Good Samaritan comes to mind. Such happiness has no limit other than our capacity for joy.
Life can be a zero-sum business of fighting over the same fixed reward. The family is unique, for unlimited happiness is possible. Perhaps that is why we gather as families for Thanksgiving, to share the happiness that has no limit. The family institution is a bit battered of late, but I’m confident of its durability and eventual recovery. There is no other choice.
This brings us back to Mary Chilton, the orphan at the first Thanksgiving. After her hard beginning in the New World, life got better. Perhaps it was childish excitement after the long voyage, but Mary was the first woman to step ashore and later in life identified the site we know as Plymouth Rock. John Winslow, whose brothers were on the Mayflower, romanced her and together they reared a large family, moved to Boston, and prospered. She is one of just two Pilgrim women to leave a will and her posterity spans our country. Just goes to show that when you give thanks, even for very little, the best is yet to come. There’s meaning in that.
Guess I’m finally ready to move forward and put up the Christmas lights.
Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” Email: [email protected]
Places to worship (all on Sunday, unless noted):
Baha’i’s of Laguna Beach—contact [email protected] for events and meetings.
Calvary Chapel Seaside, 21540 Wesley Drive (Lang Park Community Center), 10:30 a.m.
Chabad Jewish Center, 30804 S. Coast Hwy, Fri. 6 p.m., Sat. 10:30 a.m., Sun. 8 a.m.
Church by the Sea, 468 Legion St., 9 & 10:45 a.m.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 682 Park Ave., 10 a.m.
First Church of Christ, Scientist, 635 High Dr., 10 a.m.
ISKCON (Hare Krishna), 285 Legion St., 5 p.m., with 6:45 feast.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, 20912 Laguna Canyon Rd., 1:00 p.m.
Laguna Beach Net-Works, 286 St. Ann’s Dr., 10 a.m.
Laguna Presbyterian, 415 Forest Ave., 8:30 & 10 a.m.
Neighborhood Congregational Church (UCC), 340 St. Ann’s Drive, 10 a.m.
United Methodist Church, 21632 Wesley, 10 a.m.
St. Catherine of Siena (Catholic), 1042 Temple Terrace, 7:30, 9, 11, 1:30 p.m. (Spanish), 5:30 p.m. There are 8 a.m. masses on other days and Saturday 5:30 p.m. vigils.
St. Francis by the Sea (American Catholic), 430 Park, 9:30 a.m.
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 428 Park Ave., 8:00 & 10:30 a.m.
Unitarian Universalist, 429 Cypress St., 10:30 a.m.