Thursday, November 25, 2004

The Giving Of Thanks 

A message crafted by our President's message team for red America:

All across America, we gather this week with the people we love, to give thanks to God for the blessings in our lives. We are grateful for our freedom, grateful for our families and friends, and grateful for the many gifts of America.

On Thanksgiving Day, we acknowledge that all of these things, and life itself, come from the Almighty God. Almost four centuries ago, the Pilgrims celebrated a harvest feast to thank God after suffering through a brutal winter.

President George Washington proclaimed the first National Day of Thanksgiving in 1789, and President Lincoln revived the tradition during the Civil War, asking Americans to give thanks with "one heart and one voice."

Since then, in times of war and in times of peace, Americans have gathered with family and friends and given thanks to God for our blessings. Thanksgiving is also a time to share our blessings with those who are less fortunate.

Americans this week will gather food and clothing for neighbors in need. Many young people will give part of their holiday to volunteer at homeless shelters and food pantries.

On Thanksgiving, we remember that the true strength of America lies in the hearts and souls of the American people. By seeking out those who are hurting and by lending a hand, Americans touch the lives of their fellow citizens and help make our nation and the world a better place.

This Thanksgiving, we express our gratitude to our dedicated firefighters and police officers who help keep our homeland safe. We are grateful to the homeland security and intelligence personnel who spend long hours on faithful watch.

And we give thanks for the Americans in our armed forces who are serving around the world to secure our country and advance the cause of freedom. These brave men and women make our entire nation proud, and we thank them and their families for their sacrifice. On this Thanksgiving Day, we thank God for His blessings and ask Him to continue to guide and watch over our nation.

Plainspoken, common sense, idealistic, words fashioned for a man whose sensibilities are uncommonly common, and for whom words have the power to make the untrue true; or perhaps it's power itself which makes that possible.

From blue America, James Carroll, a writer, by definition one of those reality-based observers whose assigned task, according to that Bush man who spoke to Ron Suskind, is to analyze the new realities on the ground those bold strategic doers gathered around George W. Bush will be creating in the next four years, decides not to do that; instead, Mr. Carroll employs his uncommon, personal, and highly specific sensibility to find the uncommon meanings in the traditional, in the familiar, in the local, in the human, and manages to renew our delight in an American holiday that I have always thought of as part of our shared civic religion. Reading it made me happy and hopeful. It was published first in the Boston Globe, where Mr. Carroll writes regularly, and then at Common Dreams, where I happened on it.

Since our hope for ourselves, and for all who wander the leftward leaning portion of blogtopia, as skippy so brilliantly continues to coin, is to find renewed delight in being an American, and renewed hope for a vision of the American heritage that will reassert itself in the next four years, we reproduce Mr. Carroll, at some length, for your Thanksgiving pleasure.
America's Heartfelt Holiday
by James Carroll

Thanksgiving is preferable to Christmas. No denominational strings are attached to this week's observance, to the benefit of those for whom the birth of Jesus Christ is an emblem of exclusion. Thanksgiving has not been taken hostage by the extravagance of gift-giving or the burdens of shopping. Built around the meal, the feast celebrates the exquisite tension between appetite and its satisfaction. Honoring the turning of the year, it is a first pushing back against winter's cold darkness with the warmth and light of fireplaces, candles, the illuminations of reunion.

True, Thanksgiving legends evoke the conflict between white European settlers and the native peoples who welcomed them, but even so, this holiday points more to inclusion than displacement. Generations of varied immigrant groups have identified as Americans by embracing this holiday -- and its peculiar menu.

When the president of the United States ritually commutes the death sentence of a turkey, as George W. Bush did at the White House last week, one imagines the cruel rebuke felt by the legion of unpardoned death row inmates across the country, and so the joke goes flat. Yet here, too, even wishing for universal commutation, one can affirm an attempt at joviality.

Thanksgiving wants to be lighthearted, only friendly, a time of towns organized around games; of formerly dispersed families gathered at laden tables; a rare interval of authentic leisure; the most martial of nations at ease for once. A holiday, pure and simple.

What we love most is Thanksgiving's underlying idea: that existence itself is a gift. If the holiday ritual calls for the bounty of culinary excess -- four side dishes, three kinds of pie, two forms of cranberry -- it is not to celebrate affluence but to acknowledge the accidental richness of life itself. The multiple desserts are tribute to all that we don't deserve. In taking time away from work, we are remembering that the most precious things are those that we do nothing to earn.

Thus, in some homes couples look across the table at one another and recall how, years ago, each was ambushed by romantic desire, then was stunned to discover it as mutual. In others, parents marvel at the ways their children have surpassed them. Or friends take note of how the passage of time has turned simple familiarity into unbreakable bonds. Perhaps sons and daughters glimpse in their mothers and fathers, or even in their brothers and sisters, a rock-solid trustworthiness for which, as yet, they have no words.

Some people are ill this Thanksgiving, bearing the effects of stroke, say, or recuperating from an operation, or clinging, perhaps, to what strength has outlasted the chemotherapy. Yet aren't they the very ones who tell their healthy friends and relatives how precious is every day, every hour, every minute? Some families are broken, many people are alone, beloved ones are missing -- a holiday that celebrates intimacy can make its absence painful.

Idealized observances, so different from the real, can weigh too much. No one lives in Norman Rockwell land. No one lives forever. Human beings are constitutionally incapable of consistent generosity. Every person has reason to feel regret. Yet directly facing such difficult facts of the human condition can be a relief, because they inherently suggest their counterfacts. Even the tragic aspect of experience, that is, can open to the primal mystery on which all else rests, and Thanksgiving dares to affirm that mystery as benign. Life is good.

An attitude of gratefulness defines us at our best. It does this by pointing away from the self toward others, or toward an Other. Conventionally religious people are quick to put the name "God" on the one being thanked, and prayers come quickly to lips this week. But the feeling of sublime indebtedness, defining what is expressly human about humanity, is larger than religion. On Thanksgiving, feast of the exuberant abundance of creation, all language about any conceivable Creator falls short because creation itself exceeds our capacity to account for it. No matter, because, in being buoyed by this most oceanic of emotions, one need not know toward whom, exactly, one feels it. Let each person be God, therefore, to every other. God enough for now.

And isn't that why we call it "grace" -- the gift that requires nothing of the recipient except a heart so full it overflows, becoming a well of grace for someone else. In this way grace abounds. Why not join hands at the table, then, letting a moment's silence do the speaking, since the day itself is our way of giving thanks?

corrente SBL - New Location
~ Since April 2010 ~

~ Since 2003 ~

The Washington Chestnut
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