As a child, Charles Dickens knew the hazards of credit markets. His father was thrown in debtors' prison. Perhaps that led Dickens to write this in an early work: "Reflect on your present blessings, of which every man has many." He unblinkingly saw goodness in a suffering society, which is not a bad way to observe Thanksgiving in 2008.
For Americans, the fear of loss from a swooning Dow and a plunging recession may seem very real. Yet, like the struggling Pilgrims who shared a feast of gratitude with native Americans in 1621, the act of blessing-tallying has a way of melting fear and righting the world.
To compare the current economy to the Great Depression may be a stretch, but these words from a 1934 editorial in this newspaper are particularly relevant today: "To give thanks in prosperous times may seem easy. To give thanks in difficult times may seem all but impossible. But it is never harder to give thanks at one time than at another, if the thanks be given in an understanding of God's invariable goodness."
Gratitude, however, is not simply a passive change of thought or a mouthing of the right words. It usually results in action.
Franklin Roosevelt told Americans during that era that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," but he also asked people not to find happiness in material things. Rather, he said, "These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men."
Americans have a way of ministering to each other at times like these. Families, friends, and congregations open wider the doors that help the poor. These acts of kindness come out of a recognition that much has been received, so much must be given.
Both the world and America can look back over the past year to see achievements to be grateful for.
At the top of many people's thoughts is a US presidential race that went smoothly with high voter turnout, less scandal, and fewer personal attacks than past contests. Most of all, a big barrier of bigotry was broken with the election of a black president, Barack Obama, while two women, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sarah Palin, competed vigorously for the highest political offices. The message of these achievements to the rest of the world has yet to be measured, but the effect on Americans is palpable.
Americans also can be thankful that the end of US involvement in Iraq is now in sight. In June, US casualties reached their lowest level since the war began five years ago. With such an improved military situation on the ground and political progress among Iraqis, this conflict now has far less of a polarizing effect on Americans.
Other blessings include an improved public readiness for hurricanes. About 2 million people were successfully evacuated in advance of this season's big storms.
Coming together to overcome limitations or to set new directions can only be achieved if people have hope. And hope springs from an accounting of the good already received. More than ever, it's time to say, "Happy Thanksgiving."