Today is the federal holiday that celebrates Columbus Day; I'm willing to wager serious money that most of us don't have the day off. When your mail doesn't arrive, you can take a minute to remember Columbus, who wanted to find a shorter trade route, but failed miserably in that goal.
I’m always amazed at what those early explorers accomplished. At Charlestowne Landing (near Charleston, SC), I saw a boat that was a replica of the boat that some of the first English settlers used to get here. It was teeny-tiny. I can't imagine sailing it up the coast to the next harbor, much less across the Atlantic Ocean. Maybe it would have been easier, back before everyone knew how big the Atlantic was.
For most cities, gone are the days when we'd mark this holiday with parades and time off. Those of us who grew up in the 70's and later have likely rethought this holiday.
What marked an exciting opportunity for overcrowded Europeans in the time of Columbus began a time of unspeakable slaughter and loss for the inhabitants of the Americas, many of whom have never recovered or who disappeared completely. Let us take a minute to remember all of the cultures that have vanished because of these kinds of encounters. Let us mourn that loss.
But although those cultural encounters came at an enormous human cost, it also provided the opportunity to enrich the cultures on both sides of these encounters. Look at the European cuisine before the time of Columbus, and let yourself feel enormous gratitude for the vegetables that came from the Americas. Look at the cultures that existed in the Americas before the Europeans arrived and let yourself marvel at the ways in which technology enables the building of cities. For those of us who benefit from domesticated animals, which is almost all of us, let us celebrate Columbus and the opening of the space between cultures.
We could remember that day in 1492 as the beginning of a time of enormous religious expansion, first for the Catholics and later for Protestants, many of whom needed a place to escape religious persecution. We could feel sorrow at the religious persecution of the Natives and of various other minority groups--or we could celebrate the religious diversity and tolerance that somehow survived our best efforts to kill it.
Or maybe we want to leave humans out of the picture and once again marvel at this amazing planet which is our home, at its diversity of land, water, and weather, at the currents that swirl through the oceans and the air, at the abundance of natural resources just waiting for us to stumble over them on our quest for something different.