Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday in that it is anything but unique. It is a holiday that transcends all the different people and traditions that came together in this one place to be a different people yet. Our national identity appeals to the most base and simple instincts of everyone and yet reaches for the greater aspirations that are the very spirit humanity. Rather than say the same things over again in a different way, I thought I’d assemble the ways I’ve tried to spell these out before. Follow the links to the original pieces.
I’m never going to capture the spirit of Thanksgiving any better than I did last year in my piece “Promised Land”. To many people, this rough continent is indeed a Promised Land for anyone with the desire to make it home:
The passage across the water to peace and prosperity is not merely an event, it becomes a series of legends that define a people. At some point, the grandkids will have to know just how bad it was and how lucky they are. Telling them they are in the Promised Land may be the only way to do the stories justice.
This thought came through to help me, personally, survive the very next day as our simple trip northward to be with family became a trying ordeal:
I’m thankful and I’m always thankful, even when it doesn’t go right as planned. That’s what insurance and AAA are there to cover, after all. A few hours spent by the road is nothing if it gives you a decent story to tell. We all had a lot to be thankful for as we sat down, together, and had a traditional dinner.
That is the spirit of grace that I have tried to instill even when I criticize our world and its simple human folly. I do believe that, in the end, Redemption without Grace is not reasonable, even if it has become very popular to believe otherwise:
If popular fiction really is a mirror being held up against us, the image we see is not a pretty one. The heritage of Western Culture has turned into a strange kind of cartoon – exaggerated, repetitious, vain, slapstick, and ultimately too silly watch.
But this isn’t a day to complain. I had a chance to meet up with some old colleagues I haven’t seen for a while. One of them, Sigi, is the kind of arrival to our land who is not interested in hearing about the faults of his adopted homeland. He was right to admonish me when I whined about one thing or another, but I didn’t have a chance to tell him before I had to leave our gathering. I’ll put this here as my way of thanking him for keeping it real:
Those of us who’ve seen the alternative know that for its faults, this is still a land of freedom and opportunity. This is a nation that can still amaze and surprise us, if we can find a way to nurture it and live up to the challenge each generation of Founding Parents has given us. We are a family, and when we’re all together we can recount the old stories and understand all of this as we pass it on to another generation.
That’s what the stories that end in deliverance to a Promised Land are all about, after all. The USofA, for all its faults, is still about the very best aspirations of all people, some of which are best expressed in remarkably simple terms:
As we celebrate the holiday based on the acceptance of our catechism, this is all a good thing to remember. To “Fly the Flag” is more than just hanging out a piece of cloth on a pole – it’s the process of living up to both the common standards of decency and our highest ideals. It’s not exactly easy, but in the end it’s absolutely essential. We are a people, and unlike so many other people that are defined by land and language we are defined by what we believe in. If we let our ideals down, we let our nation down.
It’s as simple as a bit of humility, as solemn as remembering the sacrifices of those who came before us, and as blissful as a warm meal prepared with love. The Promised Land isn’t just a series of stories, it’s the aspirations of people from every corner of the globe made real. It’s a lot to live up to, but in the end it’s something not too far inside of all of us. That’s what Thanksgiving is all about.