Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanks-Giving Square

I've chosen to believe it's charming. Labyrinthine is a nice word, suggests meditation in a way you may not imagine if I say Downtown Dallas is rather a maze. There's the warp and weft of non-alternating one-way streets, the streets that are predictably bi-directional until some intersection where they become one-way, or the streets that stop altogether, should bisect the block in front of you but without warning simply pick up again on the other side. It's too much to memorize, much less which streets you can park on and which ones not. And it's all the more curious because there are moments of order that throw the idiosyncrasy into high relief. Dallas is built on something close to a grid, but then there's a seam right through the middle where one grid's been smashed up against another competing grid at an angle. Which is actually nice because it creates a series of wedge blocks, odd bits of land with a sharp taper, and what is one to do with acute triangle lots?

Since the U.S. bicentennial, one of those odd lots has been Thanks-Giving Square, complete with Thanks-Giving Garden and Thanks-Giving Chapel and Thanks-Giving Museum. It's a place worth visiting. There is a water feature that's like a creek with brick creek bed. The Chapel has a lovely spiraling set of stained-glass windows set in the spiraling ceiling. The museum is a place that emphasizes prayer and uses such quaint phrasing as "woman editor," but in it I think about all the turkeys drawn by tracing a child's hand and the pilgrims' buckled hats cut from construction paper and really all the time spent in my youth on the "first thanksgiving" without a mention that, in colonial America, days of fast and thanksgiving were proclaimed variously to mark times of crisis and joy.

The First Thanksgiving of the United States, according to the museum, actually dates to a congressional proclamation in 1777. In October the battle at Saratoga signaled the turning point of the war, and in gratitude Samuel Adams wrote this coordination of the states, more than 360 words but just one single sentence, suggesting they all set aside Thursday the 18th of December as a day of thanks. I like this notion, that Thanksgiving is a thing we choose to do, not just a thing we have always donethat the point is not to give thanks but to give thanks as one. Washington gave the first presidential proclamation of Thanksgiving, an tradition which lasted only through Adams and Madison. When Buchanan issued days of fasting and prayers, they were the first in 44 years. Lincoln declared 3 years of fasting and prayer before he saw fit to name one of thanksgiving, in 1863, the first in 48 years. Of course since then every president since has issued a thanksgiving proclamation every year"at least" one a year, the museum text says. I stand in the garden thinking about how very many things I have to be thankful for, and leave feeling calm and content and grateful. Then I go home, and I wonder if we might do well to mark a few more days of sorrow, as well.

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