Thanksgiving: Healing Starts at the Table

We cannot seem to escape tragedy and conflict this year. Every time we turn on the news another heartbreaking story, another child in danger, another life snuffed out. The Middle East in turmoil. Election protests on our streets. Pipeline protests on ancient burial grounds.

In the middle of all of this, many of us will open our homes tomorrow, serve a Thanksgiving turkey, and laugh at our grandfather’s bad jokes.

Some of us will wonder how we’re supposed to put on a happy face, laugh, and be cordial in these tumultuous times, especially when the dividing lines often cut right through our families.

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But if almost a decade living and serving in Iraq has taught us anything, it’s the power of sharing a good meal around a table, surrounded by those we love—differences and all.

Our Iraqi neighbors know the value of a shared meal. That’s why every time we’re invited into one of their homes, they lead us to a table piled with food and cups filled with tea—and together we settle in for hours of conversation.

Our dear friend and colleague, Ihsan, welcomed us into his family home in Iraq this week. This was the table that greeted us when we arrived…

This is not an uncommon experience.

This is as much a part of life in Iraq—and more so—as the conflict and sectarian violence you see on the news. Our Iraqi friends understand something about a meal that many of us have forgotten:

Healing starts at the table. Conflict is resolved over cups of tea. Reconciliation begins with a meal.

Friends across ethnic, religious, and sectarian divides—Yazidi, Sunni, Shia, Kurd, Turkmen, Christian—have taught us that we have more in common than we think. We would never have known this if we never sat across the table from each other, walked in their fields with them, mourned together over the destruction of their homes, and celebrated together in the rebuilding of their lives.

We will choose hope, love, and peace as we gather around our tables and give thanks for what we have.

Through the pain this year, you’ve chosen to see hope. You’ve extended love where few others will. Time and time again, you have shown up in the hard places. This Thanksgiving, we recognize that many of you are walking into difficult situations much closer to home.

We hope that as you gather around your table tomorrow with those who think, pray, vote, and act differently than you, that you will hold fast to the hope and the love that you have shown your brothers and sisters in Syria and Iraq this year.

Often, it’s easier to love enemies halfway around the world than it is to love a difficult family member or friend sitting across the table from you. But often, that’s where healing begins—across the table, and in our own hearts.

The lessons we have learned from our local friends are immense, but we have learned so much from you as well.

We have learned that life springs out of death, love conquers hate, and light outshines the darkness.

The destruction all around us… it’s only temporary.

Healing begins at the table, together.

Today, we give thanks for you. We are grateful to you for sharing your table with us and all our friends in Syria and Iraq.