Jewish World Review Nov. 27, 2002 / 22 Kislev 5763

Paul Greenberg

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Suddenly a pause | Events swirl. In the midst of war and rumors of war, partisan maneuvers and petty debates, the madness stops. It is time to stop, look around, and count our blessings.

There are many. A year ago, in faraway but terribly relevant Afghanistan, the enemy was crumbling, but war still raged. So let us begin this day by recognizing those who fought through to victory, and still do -- those who guard us around the world. For the armed forces of the United States of America.

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 sound of a Southern accent 10,000 miles from Dixie.

Like life itself, today's holiday is assuringly familiar and never the same. Think of Thanksgiving a year ago and the dispatches from Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul and Kandahar. Think of how much has changed in a year, and how much has not. And of the struggle that lies ahead with another face of the same evil. And be thankful for the strength to face it.

In many ways Thanksgiving is the most expected of American holidays; it may be the centerpiece of more travel plans than any of the others. Yet it still seems to come abruptly, in the middle of the week. It has the feeling of a surprise despite its being right there on the calendar all along. In that way, it is like grace itself; we count on it, we certainly know it, and yet there is something miraculous in its arrival.

Let us be thankful for the hours leading up to Thanksgiving. For the festive anticipation as folks come home for the holiday. You can almost hear the sweetest two words in the language in the rustle of every crowd at an airport or bus station or railroad depot: 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.

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

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

For wandering and arriving. For long drives through the night-turning-dawn toward home at the end of the road. For country breakfasts and jukeboxes and cowboy hats and denim and mamas and papas and young 'uns. For the look of two-lane highways twisting through the hills and for the long, long black-top road stretching straight ahead forever through flat, green, rich delta country under a huge sky at sunset.

For the names of places. ("I have fallen in love with American names/The sharp names that never get fat,/The snakeskin titles of mining claims,/The plumed war-bonnet of Medicine Hat/Tucson and Deadwood and Lost Mule Flat." - Stephen Vincent Benet) For Smackover and Bucksnort and Grinder's Switch.

For the dark rolling fields of the Republic, this grand continental Republic of smaller, sovereign, distinctive republics each with its own eccentricities. For a Union that can contain both Maine and Mississippi and every variation between those cultures, those ways of life, those languages. For the visionaries who created it, and the stalwarts who preserved it and handed it to us as a gift outright -- proof of grace.

For the sound of the Pledge of Allegiance being said in a chorus of childhood voices, for the same words said in every accent at a citizenship ceremony, for that ridiculous yet undying hope: liberty and justice for all.

For baseball and jazz and the Constitution and American intricacies of every kind that are nevertheless simple, and so endure.

For the great, sweeping American simplicities -- like Emily Dickinson's poems and Joe DiMaggio at bat.

For freedom, whatever the cost. For security in an insecure world, and the strength to fight for it. For the peace we seek.

I give thanks today for you, Gentle Reader, and for the Providence that has preserved us, sustained us, and let us reach this day together.

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