Ten years ago, still reeling from the events of September 11, I tried to put Thanksgiving in perspective and wrote the following:
I have been waiting for this Thanksgiving holiday week.
Ever since September 11th.
Hoping that the healing balm of fellowship, of meals together, and of prayerful thankfulness would somehow help to put the tragedy and its aftermath in a proper and bearable place.
More and more I have been thinking that Thanksgiving this year would be like the bounteous meals that sometimes follow funeral services. Prepared by neighbors for family and close friends, these meals somehow provide grounding for mourners to begin to move past their sadness and loss. The conversation, the hugs, the quiet laughter at shared memories of some happy times together, and, of course, the food all come together as a healing ceremony, giving comfort and strength.
Now, at last, that time has come. Thanksgiving week is here.
Two months ago we wondered, didn’t we, whether we would be able to gather ourselves and give sincere thanks at Thanksgiving?
The events of September 11th undercut our community’s confidence in good will and safety.
We thought that everything had changed. We had been picked up suddenly, kicked out of our nest of safety, and thrown back in time to an era of uncertainty, like the Cold War times when we worried that some accident, or miscalculation, or individual insanity might blast all civilization off this earth and cast us into oblivion.
Our post September 11th uncertainty made us cautious. At times we had been afraid to leave our houses. We are anxious about travel, especially air travel. We are worried about visiting or working in tall buildings. Instead of being excited about the act of holding and opening the day’s mail, it has become a ceremony of uneasiness.
We imagine what other ways the evil terrorist conspiracy will conjure up to harm us. Might they sabotage our nuclear power plants? Poison our drinking water? Smuggle in small atomic devices and locate them in major population centers? Unleash an epidemic of smallpox or other dread disease?
Some of these fears are receding now. The pressures of our daily lives have begun to push these concerns off our personal “front pages.”
Some of us are thinking and worrying more about the economy than the dangers of terrorism.
The same sort of thing happened during the Cold War. Even with the great risk of nuclear confrontation a reality, we pushed it to the back of our minds and we worried about things closer to home. Back then, we did not allow the horror of nuclear confrontation to hold our Thanksgiving holiday hostage. Notwithstanding the danger and uncertainty, we gathered and celebrated our togetherness—and gained strength to carry on.
This week’s celebration of food, fellowship, and thanks will not undo our loss. Those pre-September 11th feelings of confidence and certainty are gone and are not going to come back.
But our gathering still prepares us to go forward—in part by helping us think about all the things for which we can still be thankful.
I am thankful that our country has shown that it is strong enough to withstand such an attack and respond with unity and basic good sense. I am thankful for our country’s leadership that resisted panic and led with strength. I am grateful that our leaders encouraged us not to equate terrorism with any particular religion or ethnic background. I am grateful that, even within the spirit of national unity, vigorous debate about basic differences of opinion continues.
Most of all, right now, I am grateful for this time together, the joy of sharing a meal, and the renewal of strength—for Thanksgiving.
D.G. Martin hosts UNC-TV’s “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which usually airs Fridays at 9:30 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m. But next Sunday’s (November27) program will be preempted by special UNC-TV fundraising programming.
For more information or to view prior programs, visit the webpage at www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch/.