Thanksgiving has seldom been more important. During this year's holiday, widows, orphans, friends, colleagues, siblings, and neighbors will mourn the deaths of 260,000 — so far — from the coronavirus pandemic. Families need this holiday as an occasion to remember, honor, and celebrate those who are absent from the table.
Indeed, it seems an odd time to give thanks. Most humans around the globe will not miss 2020 and are clinging to hope for a better 2021 and beyond. No one feels thankful for the death of a loved one.
Americans who are understandably bitter and scared about the miserable pandemic should understand this holiday was not established to give thanks for times being easy, healthy, survivable, and safe.
The Native Americans who celebrated the first Thanksgiving in 1621 gave thanks alongside immigrants who had come on the Mayflower to escape religious persecution. The Pilgrims, as they are known, spent their first winter in North America on board the docked ship. About half of the 102 passengers died of exposure and contagious diseases.
The Pilgrims who survived gave thanks to God for corn and the Natives who taught them how to grow it. Diseases were common and cures were unheard of.
President Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a federal holiday to thank "Almighty God" for his bounty and to set aside "a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens." He did so at the urging of Sarah Josepha Hale, the author of "Mary Had a Little Lamb," co-founder of American Ladies Magazine, and a major force in establishing Vassar College to promote women's education.
Lincoln issued the Thanksgiving Day proclamation in 1863, at the halfway mark of the American Civil War. The war killed an estimated 750,000 people — nearly a half-million more than the coronavirus to date in the United States. The coronavirus death toll amounts to 0.07% of the population. If this death toll rises to match that of the Civil War, God forbid, it will consume 0.2% of the population of a country composed of 350 million lives.
Should the fruits of science and research stop this nightmare next month or early next year, humanity will give thanks for a drug. Yet, there can be no happy ending to COVID-19. Too many lives have ended and will never return.
Yet, there should be no death toll or level of mourning and suffering that dampens Lincoln's call to thank God. When he made that request, which Americans have honored for the subsequent 157 years, the country's population was 31.4 million. The war killed 2.4% of the population, a portion 34% larger than the national death toll of COVID-19 as of Thanksgiving Day.
Though Lincoln's proclamation mostly highlights the bountiful resources of "harvests," "settlements," "coal," "metals," and "mines," the proclamation acknowledged a level of domestic suffering so horrible we can barely imagine it.
While thanking God for the gift of resources, Lincoln asked fellow citizens to "commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and Union."
Americans — busy killing each other over conflicting moral, racial, social, and political views — heeded that advice. They prayed for their country and gave thanks for what was good. We should take that advice to heart like never before. Today, we should pray for peace, harmony, tranquility, and Union. We should pray for the dead, while giving thanks for their lives and for all that is good.
Give thanks that this pandemic, this war against a virus, will end and things will improve. Happy Thanksgiving.
REPRINTED FROM THE COLORADO SPRINGS GAZETTE
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