…And they were thankful

Imagine crossing an ocean on a tiny, crowded wooden ship over the course of 66 days, only to land far away from your intended destination. Try to envision yourself battling exposure, scurvy and contagious disease for months while watching half of the people around you die.

Fast forward a few months to a time when the weather has warmed, you have constructed some shelter, met some new neighbors and raised a successful crop of corn. After all of that, would it occur to you to celebrate all that you have to be thankful for?

What if our nation was torn in two by war? What if times had been so tough that “widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers,” in the words of President Abraham Lincoln, were everywhere in society? Would you still be able to be thankful for what you have?

Many of the milestones that have made Thanksgiving the American holiday it is today have occurred during some of the most difficult periods in our history. The Pilgrims who crossed the Atlantic aboard the Mayflower suffered from malnutrition and illness for months before they began to recover with help from neighboring Native Americans.

And they were thankful.

National days of thanksgiving were declared during and after the Revolutionary War, but it wasn’t until 1863 – in the midst of the nation’s bloodiest conflict – that Lincoln issued a proclamation establishing Thanksgiving as an annual national holiday. Earlier that November, Lincoln had dedicated the national cemetery at Gettysburg, where more than 45,000 men died, were injured, captured or went missing in a three-day battle.

The people of the United States who lived during that time witnessed our nation’s deadliest war. They saw a full 3 percent of the population become injured, ill, maimed or killed because of the war. They survived battles over slavery, states’ rights and territorial disputes.

And they were thankful.

Think about where we are today. Most of us are safe and warm, and we have enough to eat. Our children have access to education. Technology opens new possibilities for us every day. Help is available for the poor, the hungry and the elderly. Many of us have beautiful families and homes and dozens of gadgets and conveniences.

Take a moment today to reflect on where we have come from, where we are now and where we are going – and be thankful.

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