Each year in late November, the American people pause to reflect on their good fortune and give thanks. This practice is older than our nation, beginning on this continent in 1621 when the pilgrims, grateful for a plentiful harvest after a hard and bitter winter, prepared a feast, and thanked God for their bounty.
In 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation to a young and uncertain United States recommending to the people “a day of public Thanksgiving and prayers … that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to al the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed.”
A century later, a bloody civil war rendered the nation, bitterly dividing friends and families, and causing the world to speculate that the American Nation was nearing its final days. Yet Abraham Lincoln found it important to continue the Thanksgiving tradition, formally designating the third Thursday of November for that purpose. Lincoln noted that, despite America’s vulnerability, peace was maintained with all nations, order had been preserved within the state – except on the battlefield – and that citizens in the North were still experiencing happiness and freedom.
“They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy,” Lincoln noted. “It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with our heart and one voice by the whole American People.”
Today America endures another painful trauma.
Yet we remember that we are a blessed nation, boasting a free and prosperous people. We cherish that truth, which is why we fight to protect our homeland. Our enemies resent it, which is why we must endure their acts of hatred. Through terror, they seek to take away from us what they deny to their own followers and what the states that sponsor their acts of terror deny to their own people.
In response, we have mobilized the men and women of our armed forces, our police and rescue workers, and thousands of anonymous heroes in our intelligence agencies. They have performed bravely and with success in their tasks, be it routing agents of evil from their hiding places in Afghanistan and elsewhere, protecting our homeland, or coming to the aid of Americans in distress.
Our citizens have rallied to their President and display the flag. The petty differences and trivialities that seemed so important before September 11 have fallen away to more pressing matters such as defending our nation and taking pride in who we are as a people.
Our airline industry has experienced turmoil, but planes are still flying. Our Stock Market suffered a shock, but the market is rebounding. Our nation is puzzled and frightened by anthrax and the imaginings of what my lie ahead, but slowly and surely we are coping. America paused in grief on September 11, but the regular activities of our daily lives – school, family events, work, church – continue unheralded, though they too are acts of patriotism and defiance.
We are thankful for the blessings that have allowed our system to endure its trials, and serve as a model for the world. It is that faith in our nation and our own beliefs that sustain us. We recognize that the sacrifices the nation faces are made to defend good, faithful, and just ideals.
One such sacrifice was made by Todd Beamer, who led a group of passengers in heroically fighting terrorists aboard doomed Flight 93, and who may have saved the U.S. Capitol and thousands of people.
The sprit of Thanksgiving is epitomized by his widow.
“I know that Todd’s death was not in vain,” Lisa Beamer says. “I see evidence of it all over, with people who have come up to me and said, ‘What an inspiration.’ I just hope that it leads to a revival of faith in this country and this world. It’s clear that that’s what we need right now, and it’s the time for that for our country.”