Opinion: Finding Meaning

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Pilgrims Among Us

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the 1620 Pilgrim landing in America. At the 200th anniversary the noted lawyer and political leader Daniel Webster gave a speech you might like to read, his famed “Plymouth Oration.” The speech notes the blessings that flowed from our Pilgrim beginning. Those blessings included a new idea in the world—a democratic government offering freedom of religion. In honor of the 400th and as a Thanksgiving introduction, please allow me to add a few words, a love story.

Sometimes the word “puritanical” is used in a pejorative way. We should remember the Pilgrims for what they were, devout seekers of better religion, people willing to leave the comforts of home to brave the challenges of a new land. Half of them perished in the first year of Plymouth Colony, yet they never wavered in their crusade. I think them, by their actions, the best people of their tine. Yet amidst all this, the Pilgrims made place for love.

Remember Longfellow’s famous poem, “The Courtship of Miles Standish”? Standish, the Pilgrim’s military leader, had lost his wife to illness and the Pilgrim Colony offered but one eligible maiden—Priscilla Mullins. According to the poem, based on Longfellow family legend, Standish asked his roommate John Alden to seek Priscilla’s hand in marriage for him. Priscilla, however, knew her mind and in response to Alden’s query on behalf of Standish slyly responded, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?” John and Priscilla married in 1621.

There was an interested observer to John and Priscilla’s courtship—a young girl named Mary Chilton. Chilton was an orphan, her parents had died in the first illness, even before the Pilgrims came ashore. As a girl coming of age, Mary would be curious about Priscilla’s romance. In fact, three years later, she married John Winslow, brother of Pilgrim leader Edward Winslow. Together they reared ten children and prospered, later moving to Boston. They helped lay the foundation for our country and I’m proud, like many Americans, to be a descendent of Mary Chilton Winslow. By tradition it was Mary who late in her life identified Plymouth Rock as the site where the Pilgrims landed remembering that in her excitement she was the first to jump ashore. I hope to tell the grandchildren about Priscilla’s and Mary’s love stories this Thanksgiving.

Returning to Longfellow’s ballad, it presents a surprise closing for it moves from newlyweds John and Priscilla Alden to the promise of love for all. Love, Longfellow says, is “Old and yet ever new… simple and beautiful always… immortal and young…”

We have a Thanksgiving tradition, between dinner and dessert, of each sharing what they’re thankful for. This year I’ll be sure to express gratitude for love that ever springs new among lovers of all ages. And I’ll thank the Beautiful Wife for the wonders of her companionship these many years. There’s meaning in that.

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]

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