It might be 1942 again. Again and again.
This war tears at us even as we sit down at the festive table, and what is not said impresses more than the certainties expressed from every quarter. It is palpable every holiday now after these years - the uncertainty, the frustration, the doubt and faith, the familiar anger pitted against undying hope, and something else that eludes clear definition.
What is it, exactly? Call it a general sense of division. Not only between different people and different voices, but a self-division. Its effect is an inner vulnerability, perhaps the first sign of humility, which may be the first sign of wisdom. That's something. It's the realization that some things cannot be summed up with glib, authoritative pronouncements of our own, which is another reason we pray.
This war against terror was carried to the enemy years ago that now seem like ages, with all the risks and sacrifices that entailed. In thousands of American homes today, one place at the table will always be empty. There are some debts that can never be repaid.
Today, inevitably, will be the first Thanksgiving away from home for some young soldier, sailor, airman or Marine. For those far away, the turkey will have an extra flavor, the flavor of home. Like the sound of a Southern accent 10,000 miles from Arkansas.
I'm inexpressibly thankful today and every day for them all, the grizzled veterans and fresh-faced rookies, the fighter pilot who loosens her helmet to reveal her curls, the "civilian" working for the CIA or NSA or FBI whose greatest successes may never be knownŠ.
As earlier generations have done, and Americans to come will surely do, this generation, too, confronts an historic challenge - its own rendezvous with destiny. Has there ever been a war that wasn't described as entirely new and unprecedented, and as requiring new, unprecedented responses? ("The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew." - A. Lincoln, December 1, 1862.)
Our troops in the field, in the air, on the oceans, behind consoles or holding prisoners do not need to hear fine words about the new and difficult challenges they face to understand as much instinctively.
Nothing is older in war than new challenges. A Thanksgiving menu from the USS Augusta has come my way. It features Potatoes a la Patton, for it's dated November 26, 1942 - another time when the future was uncertain but not the faith and devotion of our defenders.
They are old now, those of that generation who yet survive. Some walk slowly, others are bedridden, others have gone into that cloudland where they may not be sure where they are. All have a rare dignity earned in a long-ago time not without similarities to today, or to any other wartime.
Of all the things that have changed since 1942, let us be thankful that some have not, like the dedication of still another generation of Americans at war. Let us pray the rest of us will be worthy of them.
Americans have grown so accustomed to our manifold blessings that we may take even Thanksgiving Day for granted. We shouldn't.
My personal thanks to you, Dear Reader, for your interest and indeed indulgence, and for the Providence that has preserved us, sustained us, and has let us all reach this day together. A good appetite to you!