The public opinion polls tell us that about two-thirds of our fellow citizens think we are seriously off on the wrong track. That number has been remarkably consistent for the last year.
And why not? We’re in year two of a deadly pandemic. Our political system is broken. Seventeen-year-old boys, most of whom would not be considered safe at the wheel of an automobile, can show up in a neighboring state with an assault rifle and create tragedy. The internet, once considered as great a creation as Gutenberg’s printing press, is a smelly cesspool of conspiracy, hate and craziness — and quite a few dog photos. A murderous thug is threatening war in the heart of Europe, while a Chinese strongman does the same in the South China Sea.
What in the world is there to be thankful for in this season of thanks? Well, Adele has a new album.
No, seriously. Why even bother with all this thankfulness? The world is a mess. The country is going to hell. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy is measuring the drapes in the House speaker’s office. President Joe Biden’s feet and back hurt. And due to the world’s supply chain chaos, my plastic Christmas tree is stuck in some shipping container in a loading dock in Long Beach.
Actually, that last thing is not true. I am thankful that I have never had, nor will I ever have an artificial Christmas tree. So, begin from there.
I do think the country is in a bad place and there is much reason to be very concerned about everything from politically motivated violence to gerrymandering to a washed-up television game show host making another run for the White House, but this week I’m not going to despair. At least not too much.
This is the week, after all, for the most American of holidays, a day of thanksgiving created by the most American of presidents in the midst of the uniquely American Civil War. I’m thankful there was an Abraham Lincoln. I’m thankful he was aware enough to proclaim Thanksgiving at a moment of supreme trial for a country divided and in danger of collapse. That bloody war ended. The nation got a new birth of freedom, well sort of. We have work to do, my friends.
Lincoln began that first Thanksgiving proclamation with thanks for “fruitful fields and healthy skies.” He reminded Americans that to “these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and even soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.” Indeed.
So be thankful for your turkey, if you had one, or even your vegan main dish. And remember you might do a good turn for someone less fortunate who has much less and much less reason to give thanks.
Give thanks for family if you have one. Remember to be grateful for friends if you have some. Do you have a good book or a football game on the tube for entertainment and distraction? Be happy. Be thankful.
Do you have a fly rod or golf clubs? How about a working automobile or a dry and warm place to put your head down tonight? Is there a six-pack in the fridge? Did your mom call? How about the memory of that high school basketball game or the girl or boy friend you shared the summer with when you were 14 years old? Be thankful.
I’m thankful for journalists and the First Amendment, even if it does tend to elevate nitwits like Tucker Carlson. I’m grateful for real historians and librarians and people who listen. I’m thankful that the country has had some remarkable political leaders, such as Mike Mansfield, Mark Hatfield, Howard Baker, Maurine Neuberger, John McCain, Cecil Andrus, John Lewis, Birch Bayh, Margaret Chase Smith, Phil Hart, Frank Church, Martin Luther King Jr., John Sherman Cooper, Nancy Kassebaum and Everett Dirksen.
Google them. Be grateful for great people.
I’m thankful for baseball. I’m thankful for NPR and the BBC and a warm fire on a cold November night. And poetry — Yeats and Sandberg, Auden and Sylvia Plath. I am grateful for community newspapers and people who volunteer at food banks, donate to libraries, adopt dogs and pick up junk on the beach. Be thankful for life-saving medicine and health care workers.
I give thanks for my parents who didn’t have much, including no higher education, but who made sure my brother and I had everything we needed, including a diploma. I’m grateful for a favorite uncle who wrote me letters and treated me like royalty and for an aunt who could stroke a golf ball straight and long and made the world’s best raspberry jam.
Thankfulness extends to all the people — they know who they are — who gave me chances, handed me more responsibility than I was old enough or smart enough to exercise and then congratulated me when I didn’t totally screw up, and forgave and forgot when I did.
I’m grateful for the person who is the first reader of everything I write and who can talk me down off a ledge or get me off my high horse. Be grateful if you are fortunate enough to have a love of your life.
I’m thankful for memories of Thanksgivings past and cranberry relish and whiskey from the Highlands. And I am really and truly thankful for what it has meant, can mean and must mean again to be an American. I’m tired of the tribal wars and senseless divisions. I long for leaders who get that and want to be Americans before they want to be reelected.
I am thankful for that first Thanksgiving and Lincoln’s eloquent proclamation. And I’m thankful for his call to fellow Americans in another dark and troubling time where this most wise and decent man fervently implored “the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.”
Let it be said. Let it be so. Be thankful.
Johnson served as press secretary and chief of staff to the late former Idaho Gov. Cecil D. Andrus. He lives in Manzanita, Ore.