We habitually underestimate simply how a lot likelihood and selection converge to make us who we’re, as people and as cultures.
Within the midsummer of 1620, the Mayflower set sail from England for America with 102 determined optimists aboard looking for refuge from non secular persecution within the New World, together with about thirty crew. By the point it dropped anchor at Cape Cod ten grueling weeks later, the inhospitable circumstances of New England winter and the hostility of the native tribes compelled the pilgrims to stay aboard for weeks of their ramshackle floating hostel. Tuberculosis, pneumonia, and scurvy quickly broke out amongst this small nation, captive and malnourished. By the point spring arrived, practically half of them had been lifeless. When the survivors lastly ventured ashore in March, they knew nothing about the place to hunt, which crops had been suitable for eating, or the right way to slake their thirst with potable water.
That’s after they met Tisquantum — often known as Squanto — and their destiny took a propitious flip.
Patrik Svensson tells the story in The E-book of Eels (public library) — that wondrous journey into the science and fantasy of Earth’s most mysterious creature:
A member of the Patuxet tribe, [Tisquantum] had been captured by the English years earlier, taken to Spain, and bought as a slave, earlier than managing to flee to England, the place he discovered the language. Finally, he boarded a ship again to North America, solely to search out that his total tribe had been worn out by an epidemic in all probability introduced by the English.
And but, regardless of the destiny he and his individuals had suffered in colonial fingers, he noticed the people past the group identification and got here to the pilgrims’ rescue — one thing a Christian may name turning the opposite cheek, and a rationalist may merely name kindness. Svensson writes:
One of many first issues he did was reward them an armful of eels. After their very first assembly, Tisquantum went all the way down to the river, and “at night time, he got here residence with as many eels as he may effectively carry in a single hand, which our individuals had been glad of,” famous one of many pilgrims in a diary later despatched again to England. “They had been fats & candy, he trod them out together with his feete, and so caught them together with his fingers with out some other Instrument.” It was a present from God of their hour of want, the salvation that they had by no means stopped praying for.
Earlier than lengthy, Tisquantum had taught the pilgrims the right way to catch eels and the place to search out them. He additionally gave them corn and taught them the right way to domesticate it; he confirmed them the place they may discover wild greens and fruits and suggested them on how and the place to hunt. Not least, he helped them talk with the native natives and was key to negotiating the peace settlement that was pivotal to the misplaced Englishmen’s future in America.
When the primary anniversary of dropping anchor arrived in November 1621, the pilgrims made a vacation of it — the primary authentic vacation of this seedling nation — and known as it Thanksgiving: an expression of their gratitude for the generosity with which this new land had in the end welcomed them, and for the lavish provide of recent eel that they had feasted on night time after night time.
With an eye fixed to the myriad conspiracies of likelihood and selection, and to the silent biases that pock even probably the most grateful coronary heart, Svensson displays:
It could have made full sense for the eel to have turn out to be an necessary determine in American mythology, a fats, shiny image of the promised land, the reward that sealed what was preordained. However that didn’t occur. Maybe as a result of the eel’s nature doesn’t lend itself effectively to solemn symbolism. Maybe as a result of it quickly turned related to the straightforward consuming habits of the poor somewhat than with feast days. Maybe additionally as a result of the reward had come from a local man.
For some purpose, this reward from God to the early pilgrims has been all however erased from the grand narrative. The story of the colonization of North America is filled with myths and legends, however the story of the eel isn’t one in all them. On Thanksgiving, People eat turkey, not eel, and different animals — buffalo, eagles, horses — have been those to shoulder the symbolic weight of the patriotic narrative of the US of America.
Some of the maddening sides of human nature is that, beneath the fetishism of self-reliance — itself a byproduct of the delusion of the separate self — we’re all the time ambivalent about our saviors. Ungrudging gratitude could also be one of many hardest ethical triumphs for the human animal. In some parallel universe of risk, there’s sustainably fished eel on the Thanksgiving desk and Tisquantum on a hundred-dollar invoice.
However in the meantime, on this universe, we’ve got the possibility to inform an untold story over turkey.