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.
The inevitable talk of politics -- this is Washington, after all -- differs from last year. Republicans no longer have to listen to Bush-bashing. The man from Prairie Chapel promoted his memoir, "Decision Points," with panache, grace and good humor, steadfast in his refusal to criticize his predecessor, no doubt made easier since so many others are doing it for him. He can see how tacky Jimmy Carter looks, parading his second-guesses and trying desperately to make his failed presidency look at least presentable for the historians. "Decision Points" is not Ulysses S. Grant's remarkable "Personal Memoir," but it resets W., like him or not, as a thoughtful guy.
Sarah Palin, the doll who Democrats continue to stick pins in, holiday or not, is fair game, but it might be more productive to initiate a discussion over the way politics and the pop culture have fused to our society's disadvantage. She is merely the most prominent icon for the problem. For all its kitsch charm, reality television can never be confused with reality. It's fun to watch Palin climb a small peak in Denali National Park in Alaska, but we shouldn't imagine that she's Teddy Roosevelt. "Rock climber or rock star?" She's right to ask. (So are we.)
Thanksgiving is our most traditional of holidays, still relatively unscarred by commercial marketing, even as we update it with contemporary fads and fashions, Googling what we don't understand or remember. Nostalgia nurtures the older folks as so much of the familiar disappears into microchips for safekeeping. Youngsters thrive on the latest gadgets with ingenuity and inventiveness, showing smarts and saving face with spell-checks and Wikipedia (we can only hope they learn to sort the wheat from the chaff).
The most traditional of holidays has come a long way since our Puritan ancestors stepped on Plymouth Rock to breathe the air of religious freedom, to brave the hazards of the New World. We are grateful to them and marvel at their courage (though they never had to confront a pat-down). No matter how life changes, and change it does, we continue to gather together to count our blessings. Happy Thanksgiving.