We Americans will hopefully take the time today — before or after or, perhaps, between — the food and the football (and then more food) to contemplate the events of the weeks and months now behind us and just be thankful.
That may seem a strange thing to suggest on Thanksgiving Day, a day when many of us will belly up to seriously overburdened tables to stuff ourselves to the point of discomfort when far too many of our neighbors are going hungry.
Most of us know how easy it is to get so caught up in the trappings of an increasingly commercialized holiday celebration — the day before Black Friday and all of those attractive “deals” — that we tend to do little more than nod at its core meaning.
Even then, we may do so with a high degree of embarrassed self-consciousness, as if we are being overly sentimental.
Fact is, there is nothing excessively emotional or naïve in the recognition that most of us in this great country are beneficiaries of much that is good. What is more, it is rewarding to see past the bad that so often occupies our thoughts to the blessings that surround us; it is a means of lifting our spirits and refreshing ourselves, of giving ourselves the handgrips and footholds to take on what comes next in our lives.
For those willing to allow their minds to wander from the dinner table or the television, it’s not terribly difficult to see or to understand that things can nearly always be worse.
For starters, we might recall that America’s first Thanksgiving came not after a year of plenty but after a year in which disease and starvation had stalked the Pilgrims, leaving only about half the original number still alive.
In a sense, we are in a similar situation today. Over the spring and summer months, we in southwest Iowa endured hundreds of days of record-level flooding, some of us wondering from one day to the next if our homes and our livelihoods would endure the onslaught of a raging Missouri River.
While there were scares from time to time during the spring and summer, the levees built to protect Council Bluffs held. For that, we have much to be thankful.
Other area communities — Hamburg and Pacific Junction come immediately to mind as do other communities on the west side of the Missouri River — were not so fortunate. Pacific Junction is now largely a memory and Hamburg is still working to return to some semblance of normalcy.
There were huge losses from the flooding, and those losses should never be trivialized nor forgotten. There were those on the agricultural lands to the north and south of Council Bluffs who lost not only their homes but also an entire year’s production … essentially their livelihood for the year now drawing to a close and, perhaps, those to follow. Unfortunately, some are already predicting that 2020 could see a second round of the weather that caused us so much grief in the months just past.
But focusing on the reasons for gratitude does not mean obliterating our awareness of the wrongs of the world, especially those we might help set right through our actions. Focusing on that for which we should be thankful provides a balance so that when we turn our attention to those wrongs, we see them as part of a whole, not the only realities worth noting.
This is a day to be enjoyed but not squandered. It will be all the more enjoyable if you take a few moments to think about its real meaning, to think about those who are less fortunate and ask ourselves, “how can I help?”