Giving Thanks on Alcatraz

The last time I got up early to take the ferry to the Indigenous People’s Thanksgiving, I had many things weighing heavy on my mind. This 2005 day of thanks gave me little room to be thankful beyond the fact that I was alive and able to feel all the intense emotions coursing through me. Getting up that early didn’t brighten my mood either, until I was on the ferry and able to feel the power of community, song, and radical native medicine. As the ferry trolled over the Bay, I thought of all the troubles that the Native North Americans had seen over the generations. I thought of the troubles my Irish ancestors probably faced against the English occupation forces. I thought of all the many struggles for justice and peace that take place every day across the world. This opened my heart up a bit, just a small amount, allowing me to sit with my own present struggles and fell the common thread of humanity’s suffering.

On Alcatraz, there were thousands of people with similar intents, standing in a circle around a huge fire and maybe 150 Aztec dancers. They were calling in the Spirit and setting the mood for our brief visit together on the Rock in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Huge baskets of tobacco were going around, so I took some and kept in my hand during the whole ceremony. It was to put my prayers in and to throw into the huge fire, where the smoke would send my prayers to the Great Spirit. I had recently written down a romantic description of my ideal job, and so put that thought into the tobacco. I wanted a job that was fun, full-time, involved travel, artistic, for a good cause or nonprofit, and sustainable. I threw the plant into the fire and looked up into the sky, not expecting much of an answer beyond that.

What happened in the years since has always brought a smile to my eyes. I soon got a job with Teatro ZinZanni and all but three of my ideal job descriptors were met. This job did not involve travel and was not sustainable and was part time. I then landed the Carny Activist job with Ben Cohen and his org Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities. All but ONE of the descriptors were covered, since this job only lasted 8 months. Then the book project landed in my lap, not quite being the perfect job. Then Jonathan Youtt’s Carny Games, and the Sustainable Living Roadshow, began to take off, also not quite filling the dream job. But these two projects proved to be extremely fun, involved huge amounts of travel, and were for great, creative causes.

Reflecting back to that mostly miserable morning on Alcatraz, looking up at the sky as my prayer ascended, I have to say that the Universe does indeed answer deep wishes. I haven’t been back to the Thanksgiving ceremony since then, but have found my upcoming Thanksgiving Thursday free. So I’m going back. I am glad that my misery has dissipated, and am taking my upcoming prayer seriously. Because the thousands of people who watch the sun rise on Alcatraz weave a powerful magic. And the community, music, and shared values make a great container for creating healing in the world. These days, this is what we need. I am thankful that, five years later, I get to return and once again help bring goodness into our shared lives.