The Thanksgiving holiday offers mixed blessings that run from anxiety to celebration. When the different generations gather together to mix memory with desire (as the poet sayeth), we recognize differences as well as affinities, angry feelings along with the affectionate. We hasten and chasten our will to make known.
We're blessed to live in America, and yet we take due notice of the dark shadow of terrorism that falls across the horizon. We dilute fear of traveling with jokes about pat-downs and body scans, trying to hide the disgust at having been brought low with humiliation. We salute the "grannies from Topeka" pulled out of line as suspects hiding detonators in their Wal-Mart underwear. We try to laugh at airport chaos, but only after we're home again in the comfort and cozy security of our homes. We worry deeply about the proper balance of public safety against private rights, the country's safety against personal dignity. We won't let the terrorists demoralize us, but we can't throw precaution to the winds.
The words of John F. Kennedy, assassinated 47 years ago this week, ring as true today as they did when he spoke them in 1961. "Terror is not a new weapon," he said. "Throughout history, it has been used by those who could not prevail either by persuasion or example."
To that we can add the words George Washington placed in his proclamation prayer for the first Thanksgiving, "to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a government of wise, just and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed."
Americans traditionally accent the positive. As we join the extended family for the holidays, we delight at the youngest at the table and look forward to watching them grow up. We engage the adolescents while ignoring, or at least dropping our eyes, at the tattoos and piercings of the most rebellious, with hopes that they, like their aunts, uncles and older cousins before them, will eventually put away childish things. (We also hope they refrain from texting while eating.)
We politely ask young vegan adults about the tofu turkey recipe, while repressing a turkey-eater's smile of superiority. We appreciate it when they hide their contempt for the cannibals of fowl and cow seated with them. We indulge the tipsy uncle who lost his wife last year, and we encourage the oldest among us to tell their stories of Thanksgivings past.