Letter to the Editor: Hard times are best times to give thanks

To the Editor:

Recently at a local grocery store, I overheard two men in the checkout discussing the upcoming holiday. “There’s not much to be thankful for this year,” one said to the other, lamenting his family’s troubled relationships. That brought to mind a radio interview I recently heard with Dr. Joshua Coleman, a well-known therapist who specializes in troubled families. The esteemed psychologist said: “Family estrangement is at an all-time high in this country. Because of divorce, drug or alcohol dependence, mental illness, sons- or daughters-in-law who want nothing to do with the families into which they married … for these reasons family estrangement is an epidemic in America.”

Further, as I found myself talking with close friends, we lamented that it seems America is more rancorous, divided and divisive than ever. We agreed that due to politics and politicians who won’t talk with peers across the aisle in the other party, because of the lingering Covid pandemic which seems to never end, as well as the large amount of incivility and gun violence in our country, that it will be a difficult year for many to give thanks.

Then it dawned on me: This is not the first painful time that Americans have celebrated Thanksgiving. In fact, at major times of crisis in our history, Thanksgiving has been borne not out of abundance, but out of pain and scarcity.

Think for a minute of those first European settlers who inhabited this land in 1620. According to many sources, that first winter at Plymouth Colony claimed the lives of half of them. In the eyes of many, a Thanksgiving observance in 1621 would have been filled with too much pain. And yet, thanks to the generosity of the new Native American friends, that first Thanksgiving occurred.

Then in 1777, George Washington called for a Thanksgiving observance. At the same time, Americans were at battle with the British. Rations were scarce; Fighting morale was low and there was much pain and loss. Indeed many signers of the Declaration of Independence themselves died or became impoverished. Yet Americans celebrated Thanksgiving.

Nearly a century later in November 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared a Thanksgiving proclamation five months after the bloody Gettysburg battle. This horrific conflict produced 20,000 Confederate soldier casualties and nearly as many Union deaths. Yet in one of our most painful times, Americans were urged to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Amazingly, given all the pain our nation and Lincoln was enduring, his words echo a sweetness and hope in divine providence: “The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful friends and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.”

So, when you overhear someone say that because of the Pandemic, the political rancor, or the gun violence, that there’s not much to celebrate, then you can remind another that we are indeed in good company. So, go ahead and give thanks, no matter your situation!

M. Bert Kite