Some years more than others, we have to prepare for Thanksgiving beyond the pies and the turkeys and the stuffing. In November 1962, only weeks after the Cuban missile crisis, the young president of the United States wrote this to a rattled nation:
“It is fitting that we observe this year our own day of thanksgiving. It is fitting that we give our thanks for the safety of our land, for the fertility of our harvests, for the strength of our liberties, for the health of our people. We do so in no spirit of self-righteousness. We recognize that we are the beneficiaries of the toil and devotion of our fathers and that we can pass their legacy on to our children only by equal toil and equal devotion. We recognize too that we live in a world of peril and change–and in so uncertain a time we are all the more grateful for the indestructible gifts of hope and love, which sustain us in adversity and inspire us to labor unceasingly for a more perfect community within this nation and around the earth.”
In his invitation to the country, I hear Kennedy imploring himself.
“Let us renew the spirit of the Pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving, lonely in an inscrutable wilderness, facing the dark unknown with a faith borne of their dedication to God and a fortitude drawn from their sense that all men were brothers.
Let us renew that spirit by offering our thanks for uncovenanted mercies, beyond our desert or merit, and by resolving to meet the responsibilities placed upon us.
Let us renew that spirit by sharing the abundance of this day with those less fortunate, in our own land and abroad. Let us renew that spirit by seeking always to establish larger communities of brotherhood.
Let us renew that spirit by preparing our souls for the incertitude’s ahead–by being always ready to confront crisis with steadfastness and achievement with grace and modesty.
Let us renew that spirit by concerting our energy and our hope with men and women everywhere that the world may move more rapidly toward the time when Thanksgiving may be a day of universal celebration.
Let us renew that spirit by expressing our acceptance of the limitations of human striving and by affirming our duty to strive nonetheless, as Providence may direct us, toward a better world for all mankind.”
We, too, have more to do this year than grocery shop and fix old recipes. It won’t be easy or fast, and it will take all of us pulling together. We need to make some things which have grown old feel brand new again:
Let us reclaim the vision of America as the land of liberty and justice for all… Let us remember on whose shoulders we stand. Let us respect each other across lines of difference. Let us repair the violence of racism. Let us restore women to their rightful place. Let us recover religion, the arts and sciences, and physical education as a means to make each of us more humane. Let us rebuild Baltimore… through business investment and job creation, through improved transportation and restored housing, through re-engaging young people and caring for seniors, by adding strength to wherever there is light and hope. Let us revive the spirit of Thanksgiving in our time.
Hope and love are indestructible, and I am so thankful for you.
P.S. If you need one, here’s a blessing for your table next Thursday, by Nicholas Samaras.
For what we are given.
For being mindful of what we are given.
For those who grieve and those who celebrate.
For those who remain grateful in the face of everything.
For the assembly of words that links us together.
For individual speech that becomes speech shared.
For the transformations a written page may effect in us.
For those who pay attention.
For the teachers who gave us the chrysalis of language.
For the comrades of the heart who left us signposts.
For the parent who gave us the one ethic of discipline.
For ourselves who may take discipline to heart, and not resent it.
For the second chance that is the writing down.
For those who know that half of poetry is silence.
For the language of breath, and the breath that is prayer.
For those who wake to light, and know the depths of sacrament.
For this common meal, and us who bow our heads and partake.
For those who remember that “so be it” is also written.