The day before Thanksgiving has always been one of those days I have looked forward to. Sure, Thanksgiving Day itself is a big event, what with football, a big dinner with family and friends and many other traditions, but I have always enjoyed the “eves” of major holidays and events. I think it has something to do with expectations and preparation. There is something about the excitement of being on the verge of something fun that makes it even more enjoyable.
Each year I look back at all the things for which I am thankful. First off, I am thankful for my relationship with God and His salvation. I haven’t always acted thankful, in fact, many times, I have acted quite the opposite, but I have come to realize all the more how special and valuable a gift that is and am truly thankful He loves me in spite of myself. I am thankful for my close friends and family. There are very few people who can truly say they have loving friends and family, but you all truly are and I love and appreciate you all, and, again, am thankful you are in my life. I am thankful for my health. Despite the challenges, I have been truly blessed by having access to quality medical support and have had family and friends support me as I have made changes to improve the quality of life going forward. I am thankful for the freedoms we enjoy in this nation. Though we have become more polarized than I have ever seen, our nation and our citizenry are, as Ronald Reagan put it, a “shining city on a hill”. I went back and re-read the original speech and then his farewell speech and was struck once again by its timelessness. So, I’d like to leave you with this extract from that farewell speech published in the New York Times on January 12, 1989. I apologize for the length, but not the content.
“An informed patriotism is what we want. And are we doing a good enough job teaching our children what America is and what she represents in the long history of the world?
Those of us who are over 35 or so years of age grew up in a different America. We were taught, very directly, what it means to be an American, and we absorbed almost in the air a love of country and an appreciation of its institutions. If you didn’t get these things from your family you got them from the neighborhood, from the father down the street who fought in Korea or the family who lost someone at Anzio. Or you could get a sense of patriotism from school. And if all else failed, you could get a sense of patriotism from the popular culture. The movies celebrated democratic values and implicitly reinforced the idea that America was special. TV was like that, too, through the mid-Sixties. Ahead, to the Nineties
But now we’re about to enter the Nineties, and some things have changed. Younger parents aren’t sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children. And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style.
Our spirit is back, but we haven’t reinstitutionalized it. We’ve got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise – and freedom is special and rare. It’s fragile; it needs protection.
We’ve got to teach history based not on what’s in fashion but what’s important: Why the pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those 30 seconds over Tokyo meant. You know, four years ago, on the 40th anniversary of D-Day. I read a letter from a young woman writing to her late father, who’d fought on Omaha Beach. Her name was Lisa Zanatta Henn, and she said, we will always remember, we will never forget what the boys of Normandy did. Well, let’s help her keep her word.
If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are. I am warning of an eradication of that – of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit.
Let’s start with some basics – more attention to American history and a greater emphasis of civic ritual. And let me offer lesson No. 1 about America : All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins. And children, if your parents haven’t been teaching you what it means to be an American – let ’em know and nail ’em on it. That would be a very American thing to do.”
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!