Learn to give thanks like it's 1621 - East Valley Tribune: Columns

Learn to give thanks like it's 1621

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Mark J. Scarp is a contributing columnist for the Tribune. Reach him at mscarp1@cox.net.

Posted: Sunday, November 20, 2011 10:30 am

Thanksgiving is this week, but unless you're tidying up the guest room for out-of-town company, you might not know it.

If it weren't for the grocery store ads -- which upon a bed of autumn leaves are pictures of cans of candied yams, bags of semi-sweet chocolate chips and assortments of measuring cups -- Thanksgiving might well pass quietly between the last of the Halloween candy and the first of the strands of blinking lights.

One reason it's been hard to get in the mood for Thanksgiving recently is the difficult economic times we've been living in. A few years ago, simply clearing off the dining room table of all the stuff you'd bought but hadn't yet put away could quickly get you in the mood of gratitude.

But, of course, tough times usually mean we take much less for granted. The things that we can afford take on new value and importance.

Still, if the Norman Rockwell level of gratefulness remains just out of reach, you might want to step away from your house, car and stuff, as meaningful as all that is, and think over being thankful for a few things that are at once beyond yourself, but that you're still very much a part of.

First, be grateful that the Pilgrims were more than a bunch of guys with buckles on their hats who looked like Dutch Masters cigars' second team. They were ostracized in England for their religious belief that the Anglican Church was still too like Catholicism, and so they made the arduous -- many of the time said suicidal -- journey across the Atlantic to be able to practice their faith without fear or ridicule.

Their determination to live in freedom, sacrificing many lives along the way to do it, formed the basis for our ability to believe whatever we want, or to have no beliefs at all. In much of the world, you either join the dominant religion or you are outcast, denied rights such as owning property and told to make yourself scarce during the big military parade.

The Pilgrims weren't the first to leave the familiar for the unknown for the sake of their faith. Catholics fled to Rhode Island and Maryland. Later, Mormons left New York and headed west, to Illinois and Missouri before settling in Utah.

Second, be thankful we have an America to be glad to live in, because this country was not supposed to survive.

When it came to betting on America's long-term prospects, all the knowledgeable people back in the late 18th and early 19th centuries were willing to wager heavily against our new, grand experiment of self-government. They were convinced the new nation, lacking the iron hand of a strong central ruling class, would collapse and be reclaimed by the world's great powers that we had just chased out.

In other words, America was not only going down; it wasn't going to beat the point spread. Of course, we showed them, and now you know why "And our flag was still there" are the most stirring words in our national anthem, certainly much more meaningful than, "And the home of the Braves," even if you live in Atlanta.

Third, Thanksgiving, by definition an entire nation coming together, if only briefly, to offer thanks for its rich blessings, was first proclaimed during the most divisive period in the country's history. President Abraham Lincoln declared the first nationwide Thanksgiving holiday during the Civil War in 1863, after it had been celebrated locally for decades. If a nation so torn by the strife and anguish of a civil war could pause to give thanks, how tough will it be to turn the Cowboys game down for a minute or two to say grace?

Fourth, this is no place to tell anyone out of a job, who lost a home, who's had to downsize, who's working two or more jobs and earning less money, that they have plenty to be thankful for.

While paying attention and proper respect to anyone dealing with any of the foregoing, at least you're dealing with them in Arizona. This could be November in Michigan, where they can never serve Thanksgiving dinner outdoors.

We can, even if it's not turkey and ham and stuffing and mashed potatoes and three-bean salad and all the other trimmings. We can, even if it's a pimento loaf sandwich served in a studio apartment in not exactly the part of town real estate agents crow about.

We have real cares and worries, yet we live in the best part of the greatest nation on Earth. And that's something to think about as the last morsel of Halloween candy is taken from the bottom of the bowl that's still by the door, just as you're digging out the first strand of blinking holiday lights, or perhaps that first box of ornaments.

At that special moment, believe me, it will feel good to give thanks for all of your many blessings, especially if you're able to get it out of the way before halftime is over.

Read Tribune contributing columnist Mark J. Scarp's (mscarp1@cox.net) opinions here on Sundays. Watch his video commentaries at evtnow.com/scarp.

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