Many of us this year may be thinking, as I have been, that we have little to be thankful for this year. With the economic crisis looming a large number of us are experiencing hardships and facing an uncertain future. We realize, a bit sheepishly perhaps, we are unwilling to acknowledge that we have anything at all to be thankful for this year. Lately, I have been struggling to be thankful. As Thanksgiving approached I started to look around me and within myself and think some ascertain thoughts on what I am doing and where I am going, who I am and who I am not, what I have and what I haven’t, and how much I like myself. Doing so, my thoughts shifted to the long traditions of Thanksgiving and why we continue to observe those tradition each year although our world is constantly changing. My thoughts went back to the first Thanksgiving when a small group of settlers and a tribe of Native Americans sat down together for the first feast of thanks in New England.
The Pilgrims, a tiny group of sober, persevering, industrious, devout human beings, stopped to give thanks for what they had achieved and to be grateful for the people who had helped them achieve it. They had come through years of bitter hardship. They were less than half the number from when they embarked. Their future would be difficult, yet they were filled with hope of survival and progress. The truth is that although they had none of the comforts that they left behind in Europe, they had courage, will power and faith without limits, and these traits add up to that one invaluable possession character. Character can’t be bought, it can’t be sold. It has to be built, a tiny scrap at a time, by those who would possess it.
The first Americans who celebrated Thanksgiving were people of fortifying character. They were not hunting gold or fortune when they arrived in Plymouth. They were hunting freedom of spirit and a better life for themselves and their descedents and they were willing to take risks, work hard and sacrifice to get it. On that first feast day they sat down to eat with no great assurance that there would be any food before them the next year. However they were thankful because they were free. Freedom is the magic ingredient that gives flavor to the most meager dish. It is life bread for the soul. All of us Americans have inherited a passion for freedom which the Pilgrims unknowingly bequeathed us. American history is peppered with similar stories of immigrants seeking freedom and a better life for their descendents. Thanksgiving is the one American holiday that ties us all together in unity and gives us a national identity. We have come from every corner of the world seeking something that we didn’t have in our country of origin. We are a nation of strong people with fortifying character. We are persevering, industrious and devout people, that are willing to work hard and sacrifice for what we believe in. We are a nation of people who hold freedom dear to our hearts and are willing to fight to keep it.
As we assemble with our families on Thanksgiving Day there are differing opinions on the charm of the occasion. In any family there is someone who could be nicer, less critical, more agreeable, better looking, more fun, but they are our family. We don’t get to choose them and they don’t get to choose us either. Most of us would most likely prefer to trade a few members in for some others. Nevertheless, they are our family. Thanksgiving gives us a chance to talk together and look each other over. We might actually find some common ground. We might learn to like each other better. We might just make a memorable moment that we will recall in the future when looking back on days gone by. Making a broader observation, we might say that a family makes a fair showing of American citizenship. Despite our differences we are bound together, we didn’t get to choose our neighbors or our fellow citizens and they didn’t get to choose us. It is always true that someone could be nicer, less critical, more agreeable, better looking, more fun, but we are all members of the great family of the United States of America. To be an American is something that we can all be thankful about.
For those of us who are facing hard times and an uncertain future we can be thankful to have the opportunity to build a little character, to know that we will be a better person in the end. When the world looks dark remember to look up in the dark sky and see the moon and stars which are illuminating the sky and be thankful. I leave you with a quote by George Borrow:
“There’s night and day, brother, both sweet things; sun, moon, and stars, brother, all sweet things; there’s likewise a wind on the heath. Life is very sweet, brother; who would wish to die?”