Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving--A Chance to Transcend our Headaches

"You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip my pen in the ink."
       --G. K. Chesterton

The year was 1863. For the man sitting in the White House it was a turbulent time. On January 1 of that year he had issued the Emancipation Proclamation: “All persons held as slaves…shall be then , thenceforward, and forever free.” The country pulled at him from all sides. The Abolitionists said the Proclamation did not go far enough. Many wondered how this action would affect the morale of the troops. Senators, like the newspapers, put their ears to the ground and barked out varied opinions. That year they began to talk about Mr. Lincoln’s War. The year before he had lost little Willie, his eleven year old son, and his wife would never fully recover. Many of his generals had let him down and then July 1-3 of that year Gettysburg came. It was the bloodiest battle in America history. When the fighting stopped on the third day 51,000 casualties from both sides were reported dead. One book about Gettysburg called that battle, A Vast Sea of Misery. By September of that hard year half the Northern public was against this war.

That same year there was a little known poet and editor named Sarah J. Hale. She had been lobbying for some time to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. Many states observed this special day that went all the way back to President George Washington. But Sarah Hale felt strongly that the nation needed a national day of Thanksgiving when the whole country would pause and remember.

Mrs. Hale came to see the President about her concern. If the country had a national day when all would pause and give thanks it might just do something for all the people. Lincoln listened and began to wonder if perhaps such a day might just help unite his divided nation. And so on the third day of October in 1863 Lincoln signed the national Thanksgiving Proclamation to be held on the fourth Thursday in November.

It would be two more years before the war would end on April 9, 1865. Did that Thanksgiving Proclamation stop the war? No. Did the declaration change anything? Who knows? We do know that the President continued to courageously lead the nation in the hardest of days. We do know that on November 19, one week before that first national Thanksgiving that Lincoln stood at Gettysburg and looked out on a torn battlefield and gave his finest address.

147 years later on this Thursday we pause for another Thanksgiving Day. It would be great if the old dream of a united people stirred once again. Our nation has many difficulties. Some say our President has as much on his plate as did Abraham Lincoln. We do know the mood of the land has turned sour. We have come through yet another contentious election. The battle lines are being drawn while foreclosures continue, people are desperate for jobs and the economy is in disarray Anxiety settles down on us like a fog. Some even say America’s best days are over. 

Our mood reminds me of the little boy that brought home from school the familiar picture of the three Patriots that marched down the road. One played the fife, another beat a drum and a third carried a flag. The little boy showed the picture to his father and said, “Daddy, the man carrying the flag looks like he has a terrible headache.” Most of us understand that picture.

Yet Thanksgiving gives us another opportunity to transcend our headaches. It could be a moment when we might just renew our faith in the old vision of the Pilgrims and George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. It might be a time to put away our weapons and labels and reaffirm our faith in this good land. We have been blessed beyond measure. We have survived so much in our history. It is high time to pause and give thanks and recommit ourselves to making this word united a reality for America once more.

(This article appeared in The Greenville News, Monday, November 25.)

     --roger lovette/

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