Given the war in Iraq and the way Americans have lately been going after each other, some no doubt consider this Thanksgiving a terrific excuse to retreat from worry but hardly a time to take the holiday's name seriously.
Thankful? Thankful for what?
For an answer, it would be wise to turn to Abraham Lincoln, who issued a moving Thanksgiving proclamation in 1863 during the bloodiest, most awful time in this country's history.
The Civil War, he said, had been of "unequaled magnitude and severity," but, he added, foreign nations had not taken advantage of the moment to attack.
Away from the battlefields, Americans had lived their lives in harmony. Fields had been "fruitful" and skies "healthful."
Wealth had been taken for the fight, but the people continued to produce — the war had not "arrested the plough, the shuttle, the ship."
The country continued to grow and get stronger, and there could be expectations of "a large increase of freedom."
For such things, Lincoln said, thanks should be given to God. He also asked Americans to "commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers" in the war and to "fervently implore" God to "heal the wounds of the nation" so that there might be "peace" and "tranquility."
Surely most Americans — those of all faiths and those of no faith — can see much more in these times that is positive. The opportunities and liberties of American life continue to be extraordinary. Blessings vary from person to person, and some will have particular reason for sorrow on this day, but there is endless good around us of a kind unexampled in history, and it is uplifting to focus with a sense of gratitude on this good. It is a source of renewed energy and reinvigorated purpose.
Americans can likewise strive to help those who are suffering and we can seek to put aside our animosity when disagreeing with each other. We can recognize the bad and prayerfully address it, empowered by our acknowledgment of — and thankfulness for — the good.