Suzanne Fields

We're in transition, in more ways than one, and we hold fast to our most traditional holiday season. For all of the recent books celebrating atheism, we still gathered together this week to ask the Lord's blessing: "He hastens and chastens, His will to make known."

Thanksgiving is uniquely American. More than any other holiday, it builds on history, from a time before we began building our nation. When pilgrims and settlers set forth for the New World, they were inspired and motivated by hopes and dreams, some material and many spiritual. Some of them fantasized that they could establish a new Eden, where the descendents of Adam and Eve would no longer be tempted by Satan to do ill to others. But human temptations are always great. Theirs was a hardscrabble life, where the battles between good and evil persisted. Families depended on one another -- and on the Native Americans -- to help.

Since then, the history books have alternated interpretations that emphasized the virtues and then the vices of our forefathers. In the span of our own lives, Christopher Columbus and others who blazed trails across the continent have been demoted from their mythic portraits of courageous ambition to caricatures of rapacious exploiters of land and people.

Both descriptions are part of our story. The country grew with a mix of decency and destruction, sacrifice and suffering. The tree of knowledge had many branches from which to pluck the tempting fruit. What's important to remember during the Thanksgiving holiday is that the founding fathers of an imperfect vision of "a more perfect union" planted the seeds for achieving that union.

As different generations gather during these days of feasting and animated conversations, we scan memories of family at earlier Thanksgivings to further enjoy Thanksgiving present. The old fogies among us recall other transition times when a new president arrived amidst great optimism. My own father and mother sometimes showed the youngsters a photograph of themselves in tuxedo and formal gown taken at one of John F. Kennedy's inaugural balls. Washington was besotted with excitement over Camelot. War and controversy marked the inaugurals of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter, who came to town as Republicans and Democrats were riven into warring camps. Nearly always, the greatest differences of opinion were between the younger adults and the older ones.

What makes this season different is the optimism and pride taken by the younger generation in the election of a black man to lead America. It's warming to hear the young express admiration for their country. This is "change," sure enough.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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