The United States has just completed – although perhaps not yet closed – a bruising political season during which otherwise decent people attempted to convince voters that the world as they know it would end if the wrong candidate won.
Yet almost all those voters know, when they remember to think about it, that the citizens of this nation are blessed in ways almost unimaginable to most people around the world.
Few Americans starve or freeze to death, although it’s a national and local shame that any do. All children have access to education. Our air quality is far from perfect, but it rarely obscures our view of the mountains; compare that with China’s industrial cities or even with the Front Range. Our water is not perfectly pure, but it doesn’t burn. We have so much food that we mourn the demise of the Twinkie, a snack cake that really was not food at all. Although the poorest among us may not be able to afford fresh, unprocessed food, and that’s too bad, they are not reduced to scrounging in garbage receptacles and fields. By and large, Americans generally are comfortable and, in spite of war, terrorism and economic travails, mostly safe. Even the most downtrodden here have more liberty and more opportunity than most of the people who have ever lived.
Friday, millions of people will stampede into stores for Black Friday deals. By Monday, we will want our elected representatives to resume dealing with fiscal policy in a way that serves constituents, not political ambitions. Beyond our borders, there is much cause for worry, and, within them, life is far from perfect.
Today, though, is a day to focus on the good – not unmet needs and unfulfilled wants, not resentment of others who have more, not fears of future loss, but all that is good in our lives.
For most of us, that is a lot, but even that is somewhat beside the point. The world appears different when viewed from a posture of gratitude, and when people see it differently, they act differently. When they can see positives, they can see a foundation on which to build. They can see hope for the future.
That was the basis for the first recorded Thanksgiving: hope dwelling in the blessings identified amid a struggle for survival. True thanksgiving must bubble up from within, and for that to happen, one must be able to see how much worse life could be. One day a year – or at least a few minutes of one day – spent taking stock is a very good corrective to much of what is wrong in this nation today.
The cultural institutionalization of thankfulness is well worth encouraging, because it is such a different attitude than the one that prevails most other days of the year. Christmas shopping is beginning to creep into the evening, but the daylight hours remain commercially quiet. There is no expectation of gift-giving; aside from turkey and trimmings (prodigious as that list has become), the focus is nonmaterial.
Thanksgiving as a government holiday is an odd concept because the government cannot mandate gratitude. It can issue proclamations and encourage observances. More visibly, it can give its employees paid holidays so they can spend time with their families, watch parades and football games, and consume festive meals, and, in that way, it can support – not enforce – the practice of taking stock and honestly appreciating. True thanksgiving must bubble up from within – and it will, when we are reminded that we do, indeed, have many reasons to be thankful.