It happens that as each Thanksgiving Day rolls around, I am reminded of Margaret Fuller’s Thanksgiving revelation, one she later wrote about in her journal. This revelation resonates with me annually for its gentle reminder of the value of being willingly and patiently engaged, of releasing resistance in the face of what cannot readily be altered.
As I re-read Fuller’s account, I think about something former US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo said to us in January 2021 when she joined us at Flagler College in St Augustine, Florida for two virtual events. I don’t remember the exact question asked by one of the listeners in the audience, but I’ll never forget Harjo’s response. She answered, “Every job is a service job.”
The truth in this statement struck me. I’d never considered my many jobs over the years, both inside and outside the home, as service jobs, but indeed they were. I am in service with all that I do, even if it doesn’t always appear that way. Being in service provides greater purpose and connection to something outside of myself, even when it comes to tasks I don’t necessarily feel like doing.
I now ask myself, “What is the service I’m providing with what I’m doing right now?” The answer to this inquiry usually takes me from myself and from the task at hand to a more selfless place, a release from the confines of obligation and mundanity. This mindset doesn’t make me a saint or a martyr. Instead it energizes and motivates me and from there I feel untethered to move forward.
Margaret Fuller’s Revelation:
On Thanksgiving Day in 1831, Margaret Fuller, then 21, was feeling stuck. Her options severely limited by the fact that she was female, this remarkably intelligent and ambitious young woman was forced to live at home with her parents and siblings. Making matters worse, the family was soon to relocate to a rural town where Fuller didn’t want to live. Her outward existence consisted of tutoring her younger siblings and helping out with the seemingly endless list of household tasks. This was far from what she wanted to do.
Fuller’s father insisted she attend church with the family that cold, gray Thanksgiving Day and during the service she nearly exploded from frustration and unhappiness with her situation. When the service ended, Fuller fled the building, traversing the fields and woods alone, in a state of despair. After throwing herself down on the ground near a trickling stream in the woods, she settled her mind and looked up, noticing the natural scene of which she was a part.
And then it happened. Margaret experienced a breakthrough revelatory moment that she described in her journal years later:
“Suddenly the sun shone out with that transparent sweetness, like the last smile of a dying lover, which it will use when it has been unkind all a cold autumn day.
“And, even then, passed into my thought a beam from its true sun, from its native sphere, which has never since departed me. I remembered how, a little child, I had stopped myself one day on the stairs, and asked, how came I here? How is it that I seem to be this Margaret Fuller? What does it mean? What shall I do about it? I remembered all the times and ways in which the same thought had returned.
“I saw how long it must be before the soul can learn to act under these limitations of time and space, and human nature; but I saw, also, that it MUST do it,—that it must make all this false true…I saw there was no self, that selfishness was all folly, and the results of circumstance; that it was only because I thought self real that I suffered; that I had only to live in the idea of the ALL, and all was mine”(Library of America).
According to Fuller biographer Megan Marshall, after this epiphany, Fuller “rushed home in the moonlight,” and quelling her resistance, decided she would “follow her father to whatever country village he chose, educate her brothers, inspire her sister, help her mother”(65).
Another of Fuller’s biographers, Charles Capper, points out that this Thanksgiving revelation was, “not for self-renunciation but for some sort of self-transcendence”(Library of America).
Maria Popova, in her book Figuring, says, “Through a transcendent experience she [Fuller] later described as one of eclipsing “the extreme of passionate sorrow” –a revelation that stripped all sense of self and, in that nakedness of being, made her all the more herself”(101).
Becoming more herself by rising above her crippling resistance, Fuller:
“would persevere to write the foundational treatise of the women’s emancipation movement, author the most trusted literary and art criticism in the nation, work as the first female editor for a major New York newspaper and the only woman in the newsroom, advocate for prison reform and Negro voting rights, and become America’s first foreign war correspondent”(Popova 100).
The liberation that can flow from reframing our daily life’s tasks and jobs, the sense of wellbeing that can arise from decidedly pitching in for the greater good, of which we are part and parcel, is remarkably powerful. When we are in such a transcendent place, little can hold us back.
This Thanksgiving, I give thanks for all the opportunities I have each and every day to provide service to others. This mindset elicits gratefulness, feeding my soul and imbuing me with a sense of purpose beyond myself.
I thank Joy Harjo for her wisdom and Margaret Fuller for recording and sharing her revelation that gray Thanksgiving Day when the “sun shone out with that transparent sweetness.”
Check out our other posts about Nasty Women Writers Margaret Fuller and Joy Harjo:
© Maria Dintino 2021, 2023
Library of America. Margaret Fuller’s Thanksgiving Revelation. https://www.loa.org/news-and-views/823-margaret-fullers-thanksgiving-day-revelation
Marshall, Megan. Margaret Fuller: A New American Life. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
Popova, Maria. Figuring. New York: Pantheon Books, 2019.