Giving thanks is a central part of most religions. Indeed, the American celebration of Thanksgiving that we trace (accurately or not) to 1621, that was first officially declared by George Washington and made permanent by Abraham Lincoln and later enshrined in law by the Congress was conceived as a religious holiday — although with a far different meaning than the traditional period of prayerful fasting that defined the thanksgiving that the Pilgrims brought with them from England.
But thanksgiving is not exclusively religious. The Mayo Clinic (and pretty much any public health expert) tells us that regularly recognizing our blessings increases our happiness, along with our physical health: “In addition to helping you get more sleep, practicing gratitude can boost your immunity and decrease your risk of disease.”
So today, whether we’re religious or secular or somewhere in between, whether we’re able to be with family or friends or not, we give thanks for blessings that we cannot begin to count.
We give thanks that we have clean water, abundant food, antibiotics and the breathtaking medical advances that have made it possible to treat, cure and even prevent cancer, hypertension, diabetes and other diseases that throughout human history meant certain death. That we are living in a time of tremendous prosperity, when our poorest neighbors live lives that are inconceivably luxurious compared to those lived by the overwhelming majority of people down through the millennia.
We give thanks that we live in a nation where we are free to practice whatever faith we choose to practice — or choose not to practice. Where we can express our opinions without fear of being imprisoned for angering the government. Where we can read what we want to read and associate with whomever we want; and yes, where journalists can keep us informed, whether we want to be informed or not. Where we elect our leaders rather than inheriting them or having them thrust upon us at gunpoint, and we have an opportunity to change our minds about those leaders on a regular basis. Where we have an independent judiciary to ensure that we are governed by the rule of law, not the whims of tyrants. Where we are not at war.
These are but a few of the blessings that are showered upon us year in and year out, blessings that are so much like the air we breathe that we only notice them when we force ourselves to step back and consider them. Which we should do more often.
A year ago, we celebrated how our presidential election had come and gone without the wave of pre- or post-election violence that many on the left feared from Trump supporters and many on the right feared from Biden supporters and many of us in the middle worried could ignite from a clash of the less reasonable on both extremes.
We didn't make it to the trouble-free transfer of power in January that we had predicted, but law enforcement put down the armed insurrection at the nation’s Capital with minimal loss of life, our republic survived, and the vast majority of our fellow citizens recognize what a dangerous breach that was. For that we give thanks.
A year ago, as we struggled through what at the time looked like the darkest days of COVID-19, we looked forward with thanksgiving to what promised to be the most extraordinary journey from novel virus to herd immunity in human history. That journey remains incomplete, not because of any shortcomings by the remarkable scientists who worked tirelessly to produce vaccines in record time but because so many Americans either don’t believe COVID is real or don’t believe the vaccine is safe or don’t believe they are vulnerable. So the mask wars continued unabated, and they were joined by the vaccine wars — which feel less like genuine disagreements and more like yet another excuse for warring tribes to make war.
Despite the ignorance and stubbornness and selfishness, 196 million Americans — including 2.4 million South Carolinians — have received the vaccine and are largely protected. Doctors and other scientists have found better ways to treat the disease, and we have found better ways to live with it without destroying our economy. As for the culture wars, when we make the effort, most of us still can look past our genuine and manipulated differences and recognize that much more unites us than divides us. For all this we give thanks.
In our personal lives, we receive new blessings large and small on a daily basis. Every day, we should offer our individual thanks — if not to our God then at least for our health and well-being.
On this special day, our nation gives thanks. And we wish you all a blessed and happy day of Thanksgiving.