We know the story of the first Thanksgiving almost 400 years ago, of the pilgrims and the Indians coming together and sharing their food after a bountiful harvest. The first "official" Thanksgiving, however, was celebrated just 210 years ago today. President George Washington's first presidential proclamation designated the 26th day of November to be set aside for thanksgiving.
"It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God and to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor," he wrote.
Washington did not ask the nation's citizens to demand more from God or to question why the Revolutionary War had lasted eight years, nor to reflect on the damage that occurred during the war. Instead, he asked the nation to be grateful and to ask for God's protection and favor.
Maybe we should follow Washington's lead once more.
This year has been particularly hard for many people. Many have lost jobs (more than 10 percent of our nation is unemployed); some have lost their homes. While these losses are tragic and hard to overcome, they can be.
If these losses are viewed as specific and temporary, then in two decades, they might be seen as large bumps and bobbles in the road rather than key events determining the trajectory and the final destination of lives.
Alternatively, people might interpret their current woes as impossible to overcome and decide that they have come to a dead end. This belief will stifle people's ability to dream.
Hard times cannot be the times to falter and lose our dreams.
We are a nation founded on a belief in God. As the Declaration of Independence states: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Our understanding of our place in the world begins with our "Creator." This faith in God provides us with optimism -- belief in a brighter future and an understanding of our importance in the context of the wider, meaningful pattern of life. This faith is key to understanding American exceptionalism and American optimism.
Our thankfulness may help us believe a promising future awaits.