At the very least, we can tell ourselves, “We are still here, still breathing, still with a pulse.” That might sum up a minimalist’s Thanksgiving. “Mask and 6 feet distant” is better than “Last Gasp and 6 feet under.” Though this is hardly a heart melting sentiment, this might be the year to shelve the gospel of abundance that we are prone to tell ourselves on this day. Dale Carnegie’s “How to win friends and Influence People” delusion of ‘tattooing success on our asses’ even when we fail or lose elections has a lot to answer for.
Counting our blessings might be best done by counting what we have lost, like an authority that tells the truth, like leaders who serve the common good, like the sense of safety and blessed assurance that comes from being together. 2020 is the year when most of us are not wishing “to make America Great again”, but rather, making America Grateful Again. All the usual pieties of grace, what the preachers deliver today that we are so lucky, we are so rich with the gifts of freedom and faith, we might politely tell them to ‘shove it!’ If anyone is celebrating today as if life was a party, we would have to ask them, ” Where have you been? Have you not been paying attention?’ Gratitude today verges on blasphemy.
11 million infected with COVID, millions out of work, schools shuttered, a quarter of a million dead, and the threat of double that ahead is surely a somber prospect. My AmeriCorps members have been busy delivering food to local families who have no jobs, no money for rent, no documents and live in daily fear of being deported. Oh yes, let us “Give Thanks.” For what?
The nation has taken grace for granted and turned it into graft. Privilege has become the first principle of power. While the nation choked with a virus, our heartless Nero played golf. The shameless display of inverted justice, where the rich inherit the earth, the guilty are set free, and the innocent are summarily dismissed and exiled. That is a national disgrace. Oh yes, let us give thanks.
George Washington, our first President, was acutely aware that the birth of a new nation was as much a result of divine providence as it was of human perseverance. God blessed the 13 colonies in their unlikely revolt against the greatest empire the world had seen. It was a fluke. But Washington knew blessings are never forever.
When a nation’s luck runs out, prophets like to scream “God has cursed us.” Whether that still speaks to anyone other than crazy Rev. Pat Robertson is moot, but what it might mean for the rest of us is- we are a nation of fools if we take our freedom and our rights for granted. We are a nation at risk if we think that public office is meant for private gain. We are a people unworthy of our constitution when we let our cabinet become a mafia, people flagrantly swapping principle for profit. We are a nation lost and heading over the cliff if “divide and conquer” is the preferred 2-party ‘scorched earth’ strategy to win at all costs.
The nation this Thanksgiving is at grave moral risk. An election does not necessarily change that. 70 plus million voters appear to be willing to want the nation to spiral down into more chaos, on the way to being “great again!” Something is gravely wrong here that we ignore at our peril.
There is the “Thanks ” that comes at the end of harvest, of effort and toil. It honors human endeavor. And there is the “Thanks’ that comes when we have lost our child in the Mall and a friendly policeman helps us find her, or when our ailing father comes out of the triple bypass operation and is slowly recovering. Today, that is the “Thanks” I feel. There is nothing gratuitous about it. On November 3, we dodged a bullet. But the nation is still in triage.
Just as “Thanks for not dying” is hardly a rousing affirmation of life, so our “Thanks” today, in our shrunken family circle, is an invitation to deeper soul searching. Americans are used to all the stressing and striving, all in the interest of thriving. And today is usually a time out, to say “Well Done.” But there is little to congratulate ourselves about in 2020. All we can say is, “At least we are still here.” We are not used to that feeling of being grateful that we survived. But we better get used to it. That is as good a place to start today, to make America grateful again.