Thursday is Thanksgiving, and many people across the country will sit at a dinner table with family and friends to enjoy a festive meal. The day, a legal holiday in the United States, is meant to be a moment of reflection when we express our gratitude for the things we should cherish most – our health, family, and good fortune. For too many Americans the day will be a stark reminder of daily struggles to make ends meet and the challenges of finding meaning and purpose under difficult economic circumstances. Sadly, we have too many people who are homeless, hungry and out of work to simply celebrate Thanksgiving blind to the suffering of others.
For this reason we give thanks for the many volunteers in communities across the country who sacrifice their time to support services that feed the hungry, provide shelter, and aid the jobless. These individuals take time from their own pursuits and their families to extend a helping hand. We see this in communities across the country and it is the best of the American spirit. In many places it is the faith-based community that takes the lead in meeting the needs of those who need help, but it is also often the collective efforts of many people beyond church congregations that simply express their humanity through volunteerism. Given growing hardships facing Americans and the realization that government alone cannot meet all of the need, the work of volunteers in a variety of outreach programs is invaluable.
This Thanksgiving we also give thanks for the women and men in our Armed Forces. We are very thankful that the President has called for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by year’s end. The safe return of sons and daughters, mothers and fathers from overseas is truly a reason to give thanks. Our thoughts are with the many families who will gather around their Thanksgiving table with broken hearts over an empty chair that represents a loved one killed in combat or hospitalized due to serious injuries from military service. Our nation owes a collective “thank you” to military families and we need to do everything within our power to honor those who serve and make certain that our veterans and their families are secure.
We give thanks too for our nation’s public school teachers. They have been subjected to ridicule by some elected officials who care little about improving public education but seek only to score political points by scapegoating teachers. Teaching is an honorable profession and one that our nation treats poorly. Most public school teachers are modestly paid and many cannot afford to live in the very communities in which they teach. Many use their own resources to make certain that their students have the materials they need in the classroom. We have placed all of the blame for low performing schools and students on the backs of teachers, and that is simply not fair. The overwhelming number of public school teachers are dedicated professionals and public servants who want nothing less than the best for our children, and for that we are extremely thankful.
Our hope is that even during these tough times, we will all have something for which to bow our heads and give thanks. Happy Thanksgiving.