A few days ago it was Monday. That’s pretty much always true. Either a few days ago it was Monday or in a few days it will be Monday. It just keeps happening over and over. This particular Monday however was different in so far as it had been designated as a special day. A day for celebrating, or recognizing, or remembering or something. To be honest I’m not entirely sure what I am supposed to do with this particular day, other than the usual things like work and be semi-stressed that it’s only Monday.
This particular Monday, the second Monday in October is called different things depending on whom you ask. There are some people who call it Columbus Day, ostensibly a day to recognize the “discovery” of the Americas. Some people, notably the public and independent secular schools in my area call is Indigenous People’s Day, I think mostly as a reaction to the other name and as a way of saying maybe Europeans “discovering” the Americas was not super fantastic for everyone. My son suggested that if we were celebrating the “discovery” it really needed to be Viking Day since they made it to the Americas before anyone else from Europe, but we shouldn’t call it anything because it isn’t like the continent was hidden and needed discovery.
Discovery of course is a part of the complexity of this particular holiday. European global dominance and the genocide of native populations is of course another piece of that complexity, or not because it is not really debatably “bad” – it is bad and that’s it – but that issue of what exactly are we celebrating here is real. Or again, not because how many people celebrate anything on the second Monday of October? Most people don’t even get the day off work, unless you are a public employee, and then what do you do that day? Sleep in? Catch up on errands? Go to the beach? Probably not in October, but maybe if you are in California.
The word discover has some meanings that avoid the offensive aspects of the event: to find something unexpected in the course of searching for something, or to become aware of something. In that sense we can certainly say good job Columbus, Vikings and others – that spirit of exploration and curiosity is a good thing. That’s how we got penicillin and the internet and loads of terrific things. Is it safe to assume that Columbus did not have the intent of destroying a population when he went out exploring and happened upon our lovely continent? We do know that the Vikings were not into destroying “discovered” populations, they did a terrific job of integrating and making them part of the trade system (I know this because I saw the fabulous exhibit on at the British Museum this summer – if it travels I recommend it – aside, it was the Vikings that invented shants), there was some killing too and that’s not good of course but something. So is it possible to celebrate the spirit of exploration, daring and creativity that brought us closer together and not include in that the horrors that were perpetrated by others who followed? I ask because I think it is a hard question.
Maybe we can change the name of the second Monday in October to Explore Day, and we could encourage people to spend the day doing something different than what they have done before. Go somewhere new, do something different, eat a new food, take a class in a thing you know nothing about. Do so in a way that is not destructive to others, directly or indirectly. Exercise the prime directive in your explorations, see something new but don’t interfere. Unless a terrible thing is happening and your help is needed in which case you should probably not just watch but you should intervene, but do so without hurting anyone. It’s confusing, and it’s not. Most of us are probably pretty happy that Europeans happened upon this fabulous place, and most of us probably feel really bad about how things turned out thereafter. Both. Our ancestors did a poor job of sharing even if they did a great job of exploring. So next year maybe we should explore, and also share. Sounds like a good day for volunteering at a food bank, or homeless shelter, or school clean-up or somewhere you haven’t been before and that could benefit from a little help. No one would object to that, right?