Happy Thanksgiving to all,
As we, together with most Americans, head into this busiest of American holidays, it is easy to forget its origins. A few Pilgrims, far away from familiar surroundings, separated from many of their family and friends, had just barely survived the harsh winter of the year before. Although more than a few did not, those who did, did so facing hunger and disease in a strange place. But that place would become their home. And it would become a good home. They were thankful for that.
With all of the activities, distractions and influences offered by modern day life, the true meaning of this holiday can get lost in all of the excitement. We pack suitcases, we shepherd kids into the car and head to grandma's or head to airports. We get up early so as to not miss those Black Friday specials. Husbands, fathers, uncles and sons (along with some wives, daughters, aunts and nieces) huddle around TVs that, only a few years ago would be called “watching the big screen”, in order to watch their favorite college or professional football team. I know because I will be among them.
Amidst all of these goings-on, despite the excitement of the holiday, almost all of us carry a burden; and the weight of that burden may cause us to feel we have nothing for which to be thankful. For some it may be the constant ache of an old wound suffered by the loss of a loved one. For others, the wound may yet be raw, bright red, with the recent loss of a loved family member or equally loved friend.
We live in a time of deep turmoil. We may allow unreasoning prejudices to sweep us up in a tide of fear or hatred. But neither of these emotions ever leads to a good place. In doing so, we often forget that most of those whom we fear or hate are just like us. They carry many of the same burdens. The same hopes. The same dreams.
Finally, we may be living with a pain of our own doing, a self-inflicted wound. We may have knowingly or unknowingly hurt family or friend. We may have disappointed those who depend on us. And the sting of those very human shortcomings may drown out any sense of thanksgiving.
In all of this we forget that, despite the many challenges those early Pilgrims faced, they made a conscience choice to stop, to outwardly express their deep gratitude. We who have so much more than they had should do no less. Regardless of your faith or belief, feeling and expressing thanks is a powerful act. To borrow a word from Judaism, thanking others, thanking God, expressing genuine gratitude and thanksgiving can be a mitzvah.
All of us have things for which we can be, should be thankful, even those of us with the heaviest burdens. I hope you can find those things in your life this Thanksgiving. I have so many things to be thankful for. I am thankful that I am truly free solely because, by accident of birth alone, I was born in America, a distant off-spring of those pilgrims, pioneers and settlers who forged this country. And, I am grateful that, despite my failings, of which there are many, I have family and friends who continue to love me and believe in me. I must never allow myself to forget that fact.
Below is an excerpt from President Lincoln’s proclamation making Thanksgiving a national holiday.
In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom…It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people.
On this day, we should all be thankful for those men and women, who for no other reason than a sense of duty, of service, separated from their families, far from home, from safety and warmth, risk their lives to keep us safe, to defend our freedom. If you have a service member in your family, please pass on my heartfelt gratitude. Give 'em a hug. If you see a service member, extend your hand and thank them.