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Jewish World Review Nov. 23, 2000 / 25 Mar-Cheshvan, 5761

Paul Greenberg

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This Thanksgiving, I'm grateful for ...

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- FOR THE SURCEASE from politics. For the dimples on babies' faces instead of on chads. For 24 hours off from the political whir of a robust, not to say rambunctious, republic.

For a day set aside to let us remember that we have so much more to be thankful for than to fuss about. For truces at the groaning board and jokes and the first person to say: "Now, y'all calm down and have some more dressing.''

For the hours leading up to Thanksgiving. For the festive anticipation at airports as folks come home for the holiday. You can almost hear the two words in the rustle of the crowd, the shuffling of feet, the eager look at the gate to see if the plane or bus or train has arrived yet: Welcome Home!

For the sound of gravel in the drive of many a country place as the old folks await the sound of the familiar car disgorging familiar faces. And maybe some new ones.

For the sound of doors opening and children shouting and coats tossed on the furniture and the feel of warm hugs. Thanksgiving may be assuringly familiar, like life itself, but it's never the same from year to year. For which let us give thanks.

For the familiar things: The look of old rooms and the set table. For the stir of anticipation in the morning, the talk of cooking and preparation, and the smell of turkey roasting. For the swift conversation among people eager to catch up, and the shouts and laughter and shyness of the children.

For the bustle before the guests arrive, the hubbub of greetings when they do, the old grudges forgotten and the new ones avoided, the same family stories improved on every year, and for the arguments over just when something in the family history happened and why. For the ways in which all families are alike and all families are different.

For the way Thanksgiving still arrives in the middle of the week, like a surprise despite its being right there on the calendar every year. For its not having become one of those unanchored, three-day holidays that has lost any connection with the reason for it, like Presidents Day.

Thanksgiving arrives both expected and suddenly enveloping -- like grace itself. (''Dad, would you say grace?'')

For prosperity and posterity.

For friends who make life sweet, bearable, shared in good times and bad, and who, because they stick by us, teach us charity.

For the presence of the past around the table -- in the faces of the old, in family stories, in old recipes, in the voices of those who taught us the lay of the land. Let us give thanks for the memory of the past, the anticipation of the future and, most of all, for the rare ability to live in the present. Today. This hour. This moment. This thanksgiving.

For the holiday itself, that one long moment of grace on the calendar. Thanksgiving is outranked by Christmas, challenged of late by Halloween, and confined to the indoors, unlike Fourth of July picnics and fireworks. And yet Thanksgiving still more than holds its own. Maybe because there are no gifts to give and receive, and to enjoy the holiday one needs only a healthy appetite.

For the labor that goes into Thanksgiving and produces such delectable results. Let us give thanks for the Groaning Board:

For the turkey and dressing and gravy, for cranberry sauce and yams, and for pies -- pumpkin, of course, and mincemeat and Karo-nut and, in some quarters, sweet potato.

For all those who make the holiday possible for the rest of us: Airline pilots and cops and firemen. For the exhausted young intern who'll get his turkey off the steam table in the hospital cafeteria. For tired waitresses and busy phone operators, for harried nurses and emergency crews. For the trucker who'll order pumpkin pie in the only recognition of the holiday his schedule will allow.

For those who still serve and protect -- around the world. Somewhere this will inevitably be the first Thanksgiving away from home for some young soldier, sailor, airman or Marine. For those far away, the turkey will have an extra flavor, the flavor of home. Like the sight of Old Glory in a foreign land, or the sound of a Southern accent 10,000 miles from home.

For those moments of grace that bring us back to ourselves and to what's really important. And it's not some transient political quarrel. Flying standby in the holiday crush, a businessman will let his eyes stray a moment from his laptop and the figures he's got to have done by journey's end. He'll look out and see as if for the first time the fantastical clouds towering and billowing in the unbelievably, sunlit ocean that is the sky. Down below, hidden from sight but not claims to the presidency for their candidates. Debates became angrier on Capitol Hill and members began to arm themselves. Scenes on the floors of the two Houses reminded old-timers of the days of 1860-61. It had been less than twelve years since the country was at war and memories of those days were always present in this crisis.''

Happily, a second Civil War was averted, in large part because the first had left Americans with no taste for another. And so the presidency could be filled by balancing the great political demands and economic interests of the day.

But there are no sweeping issues separating the two presidential contenders this year -- only a thousand or so votes being shuffled like playing cards. The presidential election of 2000 has become a legal wrangle instead of a political debate subject to compromise.

Back in 1876, one statesman who still remembered the old republic said he feared American politics had been permanently "Mexicanized'' -- but Mexicanization would be a step up this year. This year's presidential election would befit a banana republic writ large.

At this point, only an act of patriotism and supreme self-abnegation on the part of one of the candidates might elevate us all. It is too late for Al Gore to lose graciously. Unlikely as it seems, the stage is set for George W. Bush's finest hour. A place in the grateful hearts of his countrymen could soon be upon him. Strange, the kind of opportunities for greatness life offers.

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