... and the giving of thanks.
Thanksgiving has got me thinking how November is such a resonant time of year for me, in terms of close relationships.
My wife’s birthday is November 4th — and so is that of my best friend (though they’re eleven years apart in age). My mother’s was November 16th, and she died on November 22nd, twenty-one years ago — two calendar days after my father, who died on November 20th, two years ago, on the day of my son’s seventeenth birthday.
My wife, son, mother and best friend are all Scorpios, therefore — as are several other good friends (including one I’m about to start working with next week), along with the person I now work with and for, and also my manager.
What does this mean? Well, that depends what you mean by “mean”, of course, but in the sense of the information being freighted with a larger significance, the answer is probably “nothing”. You could claim there’s some astrological determinant operating but as I don’t believe in astrology, you won’t get far along those lines with me. Amusingly, my wife — who does give credence to astrology — was once talking about the subject in front of me, her father and her stepmother. With one stern voice we told her it was all nonsense. She murmured that as the three of us are all Taureans (two of us born May 3rd, the other May 4th) that possibly proved her point.
But it’s still interesting to me that the birth of many of the most significant people in my life — and the deaths of two of them — are all clustered in the same couple of weeks, and that got me thinking about the word “cluster”. It comes from the Old English “cluster” — pretty transparently —meaning a bunch, or a compact body or mass. This in turn derives from the Proto-Germanic “Klus-”, which carries the sense of things clumping together, as does the presumed Proto-Indo-European root of “Gel”, implying to ball up, or amass.
So within the word’s historical path there’s that sense of things or events not merely happening to exist in the same box, or having been put there by an external agency, but embodying a collection that is inherently related or bonded (like a cluster of grapes) or has drawn itself together: either in response to something outside themselves (as people might cluster together out of the rain), or by something internal.
When it comes to the plague of Scorpios in my life, of course, that can’t be the case. I’m not (quite) prepared to believe in a concerted conspiracy of November-birthdayed people to inhabit my existence. But we do seem to have quite a strong belief in the intentionality of unrelated events, that they have some deeper meaning: many people will observe, for example, that celebrity deaths or natural disasters “come in threes”. However much we know that’s merely a result of human pattern-seeking, some part of us still might feel it’s a function of some hidden force in the universe.
This kind of thing is in my head partly because last weekend I attended a fascinating conference on conspiracy theory in Seattle, organized under the auspices of The Liberty Fund and directed by my pal Adam Simon. In six sessions over two days a dozen extremely brainy and erudite people (and me) discussed the social, political and psychological underpinnings of conspiracy, conspiracism and conspiracy theory — in other words, in a pleasingly meta fashion, we searched for meaning in the searches that others make for meaning. No firm conclusions were reached, but when it comes to meaning it matters less that we find, and more that we continue to seek.
Seek, or, I suppose, make — because the pursuit of meaning is always active. Meaning sometimes resides in things simply because we put it there. The original Thanksgiving was by all accounts more of a party, for example, the local Native Americans arriving mainly because they heard the sound of drunk people firing off their guns and thought the settlers were being attacked. The Wampanoag and other tribes soon came to have bitter reason to feel the opposite of thankfulness for the whole situation, of course. Yet here we are, choosing to frame the day as one on which to express gratitude for friends and family, while eating as much as we possibly can — both of which are fine things — meanwhile withstanding endless emails from companies trying to get us to buy stuff slightly more cheaply than usual, in the holiday’s modern and well-understood role as “the day before people start shopping hard”. Thus meaning is layered, and perceived purpose shifts, much as car hazard lights now mean “I know I’m not supposed to park here, but I am going to anyway” and the handle on an oven door is mainly there for hanging tea towels off. We’re a strange and interesting species.
There is no conclusion to this train of so-called “thought”. But while I’m here, I just wanted to say I’m genuinely grateful for the fact you subscribe to this Substack, and hope you’re all resting in peaceful food comas on the couch — rather than dealing with relatives whose political views diverge from yours in tiresome ways.