We’ve said this for a while: It’s been a tough year. With COVID still lingering, the economy tightening and another toxic election nearly in the books, many Americans are anxious this holiday, spent from inflation, worn from division and uncertain what the new year will bring. So it’d be easy to ask: What do I have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving?
That’s a fair question if your lens on life comes from cable television or social media. Both have become manipulative tools for narrowing the human experience. And speaking of infectious diseases, the pandemic hasn’t helped. Many Americans may be back at their offices, but the workplace is still half empty. This sense of isolation has only fed the tribal bonding that’s sprouted from every direction in recent years. And for many, it’s turned hope into some quaint, monochrome snapshot from the past, an ideal as beyond its time as decency in businesses or fairness in politics.
We understand this unease. Our profession gives us a full-time view of the human condition, the best and worst of it, which we bring to these pages every day. But we also see, beneath what the pollsters describe as a general sense of malaise, a larger national story, of Americans coming together behind the scenes, of society protecting its guardrails and of communities looking after each other and serving the neediest. It’s a reminder that the arc of history matters more than the moment. And it points to a country incredibly blessed throughout its existence.
For all the talk about the failures in Washington, D.C., for example, the nation’s institutions are humming along, bruised and graffitied perhaps but purposeful and vigilant. The people with tanks and uniforms still adhere to civilian control. Charitable giving in the U.S. is up, both by individuals and corporations, with most of the dollars going to religious, educational and human services programs. Younger people are getting more engaged in political and civic life, and hope for America among young people is rising dramatically, especially among people of color. And across the board, Americans are demanding solutions for a warming climate. The nation has serious fractures on race and mixed views on gender issues. But this is hardly a country spiraling into self-doubt or decline.
Now may be the right time — with apologies to American history teachers everywhere — to say something brief about that first Thanksgiving. In November 1621, the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag shared an autumn feast to celebrate the pilgrims’ first successful corn harvest. The festival lasted three days, and followed a brutal winter that took the lives of half the Mayflower’s passengers and crew, who were killed off by disease, extreme cold and lack of food. (The Pilgrims celebrated a second Thanksgiving in 1623 to mark the end of a long drought.) So from the very first of what would become a national holiday, Thanksgiving honored not a time of affluence or leisure, but perseverance over hardship. And it’s why Americans in these trying times should celebrate it today.
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Thanksgiving recognizes life’s struggles and pleasures alike, so enjoy the sights, smells and rituals of the holiday, from that dry turkey to the uncle everybody tries to ignore. And remember that America’s struggles are as enduring as its ability to overcome, something proved time and again by generations who all faced trouble and who all made America better.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.