Archive for Wednesday, November 25, 2009

United States has many reasons to give thanks during approaching holiday

November 25, 2009

Like the fellow said, when you’re up to your hips in alligators, it’s a little hard to remember that your initial objective was to drain the swamp. OK, he didn’t say hips, but you get the drift. After all, this is supposed to be a family newspaper.

The point is, we get so frustrated with our problems and our challenges that we tend to forget our blessings.

It’s all a question of perspective. The pattern the raindrops make in the dust may not seem so random if you could see them from a different perspective.

That apparently was on Abraham Lincoln’s mind in the fall of 1863, when he issued the proclamation setting aside the last Thursday of November as a national day of Thanksgiving in the midst of a bloody, violent Civil War. Look around, Lincoln was telling his countrymen, look beyond the carnage and the misery.

The words were apparently written by William Seward, Lincoln’s secretary of state. But they ring true down the ages:

“Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship, the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines... have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battlefield; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.”

But another point was important to Seward and Lincoln: “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”

Maybe there is a lesson in this for us all, if we will but learn it.

Today most of the violence, at least that which is officially sanctioned, is far from our shores, but it still has the potential to make a fair number of widows and orphans among our number. And the scourges of drugs and gang violence have made free-fire zones of whole neighborhoods within our cities.

And our politics don’t seem much less contentious than those of the 1850s, although it is at least true that no Senators have beaten any of their fellows into insensibility in the Senate chamber, as happened on one occasion before the Civil War.

The times seem contentious enough, for all that. Name almost any topic, from abortion to Zionism, and you’re likely to find people lined up, screaming and raising their fists at their neighbors. Politics, which should show us a way to work together, has become a force that divides us. We seem somehow to have lost the capacity to discuss our differences calmly, and to find compromises or at least to agree to disagree without name-calling.

And yet, surely we can find things to be thankful for.

The recession is about over, we are told. It is true that unemployment remains uncomfortably high, but the one truism of recessions is that they end, eventually.

Even as we worry about swine flu, consider how far we’ve come. Today, diseases like polio are a concern only in dwindling pockets of poverty in the Third World, but all of us in our 60s or older can remember when that threat was real.

Of course for most of us the things we’re really most thankful for are personal: We can enjoy our family and friends whatever happens outside our orbit. I won’t enumerate those; you supply your own list.

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