We have a soft spot in our hearts for Thanksgiving, and here's why: It's the only day of the year that is specifically set aside for gratitude, the most unappreciated of all emotions.
Nowadays, to be sure, our one day for gratitude is under pressure from all sorts of societal forces: Stores will be opening soon, and we might be feeling the pressure to get a jump on this year's holiday shopping. Football games will be airing on the tube. There's a meal to cook. Relatives and friends might be en route. And, frankly, considering the year we've been through, we couldn't blame you if you were having a hard time to find things for which to be thankful.
You could argue that Abraham Lincoln probably had better years than 1863, what with the Civil War raging and all. But he still found time in October of that year to issue a proclamation declaring a national day of Thanksgiving. (Some footnotes are worth noting here: George Washington did declare a national day of thanksgiving in 1789, but before Lincoln's proclamation, it was up to the states to designate their own days of gratitude. Lincoln was responding to a petition from a magazine editor, Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, who had lobbied for decades for a national day of thanksgiving.)
And, all right already, Lincoln probably didn't actually write the proclamation: Historians believe his secretary of state, William Seward, handled that duty. (And, yes, it took a resolution from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to finally fix the date as the fourth Thursday in November.)
But although other items might have been on Lincoln's "to-do" list, the president did find the time to write a number of editorials for newspapers arguing for the national day of thanksgiving: “In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, the American people should take some time for gratitude," he wrote.
To be completely fair, Lincoln did have some reasons for gratitude: Three months before, the Union Army had claimed big victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. It appeared that the tide finally had turned in the brutal Civil War.
Nevertheless, Lincoln's call for his fellow Americans to take time for gratitude still resonates today, and possibly more strongly than ever.
We understand that for many of you, Thanksgiving throws you without mercy into the sturm und drang of the holiday season; it is the start of your six-week sprint to 2018. But even so, here is our Thanksgiving wish for you: Find a time today — even a moment will suffice — to do something that might feel just a little subversive.
Before you start charting out shopping schedules, before you start to clear the space for the tree, before you turn on the TV to view the parades and football games, before you drag out the Christmas music from the dark nook where you've stashed it for safekeeping (can that not actually wait for a day or two?) try this first:
Set your feet flat on the ground. Take a deep breath. Another one. And then another.
And then just set aside a minute or to actually give thanks — even if you're doing it silently. If you're a list-maker, jot down a few notes. Share your list if you like, but you don't have to get pushy about it.
Need a place to start? Consider offering thanks for what Seward called the "blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies." Or remember that "Thanks" is one of the writer Anne Lamott's three essential prayers. (The other two? "Wow" and "Help.")
And if you need further inspiration, we leave you, as we did last year, with this appropriate line from Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night:" "I can no other answer make but thanks, and thanks, and ever thanks." (mm)