While our nation takes a 'break' from its' daily routine in order to eat a lot of food and spend a lot of money in the midst of the latest holiday hype, it does occur to me to pause for just a few moments to consider what meaning we can derive from this occasion here in 2012.
It is certainly true that the times of peaceful Thanksgiving gatherings for a certain group of Americans are in the past. And along with it, go numerous assumptions that no longer hold value, if they did at all. For Euro-Americans, the original mythologies of the Pilgrim's celebration of survival at the cost of the indigenous peoples' land have been pretty well laid to rest. Also a casualty of the progress of history is the notion that most people live in a rural area, and their lives are determined by an agricultural calendar that would offer a freshly-slaughtered bird, seasonal vegetables and a gathering of relatives all of whom were occupied in the same manner and who lived nearby.
Gone, too, is a re-pristinated version of religious majority which formerly set the stage for celebrations of the Thanksgiving Holiday in churches and homes. Our fellow Americans are notably of many religious backgrounds, or of no religious background, which should not in any way negate their opportunity to pause and acknowledge the gifts of being able to live, work and learn in the United States.
Likewise, those whose recent ancestry is from another place, but who find themselves residing here at this time represent a new hope and new resources for our country.
So, to return to my title, "Thanks for What?" I know that many out there bemoan the transition of Thanksgiving to 'merely' a time to eat, watch football and shop. I would like to propose some new and renewed reasons for celebrating this week-end.
As is my custom, I take time to reread the Thanksgiving Proclamations published over the years by the Presidents of the United States. For each year since George Washington, whoever sits in the Oval Office has written a proclamation declaring the fourth Thursday of November to be a National Day of Thanksgiving.
Reading through these proclamations is like a mini-American History course. Through the eyes of the presidents we see the ups and downs of our nation's history. This year I thought it would be useful to read over some of Franklin D. Roosevelt's proclamations written during the Great Deperssion. In those days, as now, there was high unemployment, many people having their homes forclosed upon, hunger and homelessness at record highs, etc.
By 1935, in the midst of that terrible time, there was some economic recovery, but there was still a long way to go. Sound familiar? What was interesting to me, reading FDR's words, was his gratitude for the way in which Americans were turning more towards care for others, showing more concern for the needs of those who were less fortunate, and were working to help bring peace in places which needed it the most. Wow-sounds even more familiar.
Wouldn't it be wonderful to celebrate this national holiday by taking an honest look at the polarizing rhetoric engaged in by most everyone during the recent election season and to decide to change that rhetoric out of gratitude for living in a place where such extreme speech is protected, while not always appreciated? And wouldn't it be amazing to celebrate our nation's diversity and recognizing within it a new strength of histories, cultures and resources?
Looking around the West Bloomfield area, I am gratefully aware of the number of ways in which people who need assistance are getting helped. Both through agencies, religious groups and from individual generosity, at least some resources are made available to those in need, reinforcing President Roosevelt's idea of seeking the good of others at this time.
In a strange way, I am even becoming reconciled to the shopping, albeit with reluctance. I know that people are getting jobs because of this season. Many of those jobs are not great, do not bring in enough money to support a person, and do not last beyond the early part of January. Granted.
And I still object to commercial enterprises opening on Thanksgiving Day, especially because it is a NATIONAL Holiday. It is not a religious one, such as would be Christmas or Hannukah. It is NATIONAL. All Americans are supposed to be able to celebrate this day in whatever manner is best suited to them.
But overall, I understand that, if our nation tolerates and encourages retail businesses to make the majority of their money between Nov. 1 and Dec. 30, that is the way it is. It isn't how it was, but it is where we are now. And if this moves the economy along some and offers jobs, even if they are not great ones.
So, thanks for what? Thanks for living here and having the opportunity to experience America's diversity, for the opportunity to serve others, (which is certainly not something we Americans claim uniquely), and for even the smallest chance to bring peace into places where it is most needed.
See you around the neighborhood!