Giving Thanks for What Is, and What Will Be

By Sam Johnson

      Thanksgiving Day is a special day for Americans. It is a uniquely American holiday that is deeply rooted in our spirit, our history, our customs and traditions.
     It is a time when we focus our attention on our family and friends and the blessings we’ve received.
     And so it should be.
     Yet there are those who question how we can even think of giving thanks when we live in such troubled times -- times of social and economic inequities.
     How can we gorge ourselves on huge feasts of fine food, they ask, and then sit back in our recliners, smug and self-satisfied with the way things are, when thousands go hungry, are homeless, or live alone?
     This is certainly a viewpoint worth thinking about, reflecting on, and including in our Thanksgiving Day discussions, but It seems to me that by itself, this viewpoint misses the larger point of Thanksgiving.
     From the very first Thanksgiving, the point was not to dwell on the hardships and bad things in life, nor to gloat over how well off we are compared to others. Rather, the point is to reflect on the good things in our life, whatever they may be, (especially non-material things -- friendship, family ties, spiritual values, beauty, love, liberty), and to celebrate by giving thanks for the blessings associated with these things.
     The first settlers in America had every reason to despair, give up hope, and to abandon their dreams of religious and political freedom, because so many of them died after their first winter here. Of the 110 Pilgrims who set sail for Plymouth in 1620, fewer than 50 survived that first winter. But in the midst of a threatening and failed beginning, the Pilgrims accepted the hardships, paused to give thanks for what they DID have, and looked forward to better future.

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In declaring the first national Thanksgiving Day holiday in 1863, President Lincoln faced a nation that had been through terrible tragedy in a Civil War, suffering tremendous losses and personal sacrifices. It was a time of great social and economic unrest, yet by celebrating that first official day of Thanksgiving, the nation as a whole paused to give thanks in the midst of national sadness.
     True Thanksgiving, it seems to me, comes with “the acceptance of what is,” coupled with faith that “what is to be will be even better.” It’s making the best of what we have.
     There’s a story about a wise old man that illustrates this spirit of Thanksgiving. We might do well to take a lesson from it:

     It seems this old man had only one horse, and one day the horse ran away from him. His neighbors came to comfort him, telling him how sorry they were for the misfortune that had befallen him. “Bad luck,” they said.
     “But how do you know this is bad luck?” asked the old man.
     A few days later his horse returned to him, and with it were two beautiful wild horses. Now the old man had THREE horses. This time his neighbors congratulated him on this good fortune, saying “now that’s good luck!”
     “But how do you know this is good luck?” the old man replied.
     The next day while attempting to break in one of the horses, the old man’s son fell off the horse and was badly injured, severely breaking his leg.
     Once again his neighbors came to console him and say they were sorry for the bad luck that had befallen him and his son.
     “But how do you know this is bad luck?” the old man questioned again.
     By this time, the neighbors had become little tired of the old man’s calm acceptance of things and decided he was losing it, and that his mind was about gone. They didn’t want anything more to do with him.
     However, the very next day several military officers came through the village with a young group of soldiers. They took all the able-bodied young men off to war with them, but not the old man’s son.
     He was no use to them with a broken leg.

     We have no way of knowing what lies ahead for us or our family, for America, or for the human race.
     But like the Pilgrims who survived that first brutal winter, or like the wise old man  whose horse escaped, we can be grateful for what we DO have, accept the good at hand, and give thanks.
     As Abraham Lincoln said when he addressed the war-torn nation on that first official Thanksgiving Day celebration in 1863, this is the day to be grateful for what we have, and to give thanks “to the source from which all blessings come,” whatever you believe that source to be.

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