Whenever giving major thanks, the fear is to leave someone -- or something -- out.
Around our table for a number of years we've had a toast of thanks that goes like this:
"For food and friends and family,
"For life and love and liberty,
"For all the things you've given me --
"Great God in Heaven, we thank thee."
It's dismissible as almost a ditty, almost a cliche. But we like it, even though it leaves out a key ingredient -- America, this oh-so-sweet land of liberty so blessed as it is with such amazing grace.
RANKING high among our duties as parents and grandparents is the charge to pass along the value of heritage, the goodness of family, the honor of country that simply is family writ large. Our people constitute a national family -- a national community, a national neighborhood, a national fellowship (of the ring?) -- boasting strains disparate and weird. Yet they are our strains and (mostly) comforting.
Say America loud and there's music playing (Kate Smith belting out "God Bless America," sending chills up the spine; Lee Greenwood and his rollicking "Proud to Be an American"; Sousa marches.
Say America soft and it's almost like praying ("this is my country," "above the fruited plain," "land that I love," "in the beauty of the lilies," "let us die to make men free").
Country is but music with melody on a national scale -- often, possibly too often, cacophonous melody, but melody still.
PRO PATRIA -- for country....
Maybe the Thanksgiving table is just the right venue to explain to the young that patriotism is OK, because it is.
It's OK to be proud of one's country and its people; never mind the prattlings of cynics dismissive of patriotic zeal. It's OK to be proud of this beauteous land, proud of its values, proud of its generosity in being first with the most to disaster sites. Proud of its men's and women's willingness to stand as sentinels against injustice and to put their lives on the line for freedom across the globe.
It's OK to agree with Stephen Decatur's toast nearly two centuries ago: "Our country...may she always be in the right, but right or wrong, our country!"
And it's OK to gasp in awe at Nathan Hale's noble lament 40 years earlier, the noose around his neck: "My only regret is that I have but one life to lose for my country." He understood, even then, that this is a land to die for.
IN THE words of the happy rhythmic chant, we are family. What words possibly could be more embracingly familial than -- regarding an American -- "He (or she) is one of us"?
If we are family, we also are a unique one -- just as Thanksgiving is a celebration unique among countries. No other has an annual occasion quite like it. Ben Franklin wanted to make the national bird not the eagle but the turkey. That would have made for a uniqueness of a separate sort.
Some who should know better contend America is hardly exceptional and no better than your average tinpot dictatorship -- its citizenry terrorized, cowed, mediocre, blah. They are just as wrong in that as in their apologies for the very audacity to suggest a freedom-inspired American superiority.
WHAT makes America different? The liberty at its heart, the same liberty that is mankind's ultimate cause. As Lincoln noted at Gettysburg, America was "conceived in liberty."
People clamor to come here. These are the "tempest-tossed...yearning to breathe free" (Emma Lazarus' words bronzed onto the Statue of Liberty). They risk death eluding machine-gunners and scaling walls that tyrannies and autocracies, ochlocracies (government by the worst men) and kakistocracies (mob rule), build to keep them in. America constructs walls, or it should, to keep illegals out.
(A nation that does not secure its borders, like a nation that does not stabilize its currency, is a nation counting down its days.)
Yes, prospective immigrants want American opportunity and justice and equality. Yet ultimately they seek the liberty that is their Grail, their beauty and their truth -- the freedom that is the single ingredient making possible all the other coveted elements inhering in the American idea.
So: Starting this Thanksgiving, our toast of thanks will contain a new line between the existing lines 3 and 4:
And especially America, this good land --
Rather than leaving it out any longer, what better occasion to begin including in the family toast a national family boisterous and argumentative -- cranky, yappy, and schlumpy. Why not?
For America -- sweet land of liberty -- 'tis of thee we sing.