Giving thanks implies renouncing claims that our blessings and achievements are entirely our own doing. The act of gratitude is a declaration that we owe a great deal to others—to our families and friends, to our communities and our country, and, for believers, to the Almighty above all.
Thanksgiving is thus, at once, the most traditional of holidays and the most radical. It certainly evokes Norman Rockwell paintings of hearth and home, of a nation united by long-established rituals around a table of plenty.
It is also the day on which our dedication to accomplishment and striving gives way to a reality we only occasionally acknowledge: Even the best things we do are contingent on support and help from others, and on social circumstances that make our successes possible.
Among the gifts for which many of us express appreciation is our presence in a very fortunate land. Ours is certainly not the only lucky country, but it’s undeniable that being born or raised here, or arriving later in life, affords opportunities much harder to come by in so many other parts of the world. I have deep affection for other countries, but I love this one and am very glad I was born here.
But we do not partake equally in this good fortune. Countless Americans will have no Thanksgiving dinner at all. Others will rely on shelters or halfway houses, churches, synagogues or mosques. Historically, barriers of race, class and status have deprived individuals and entire groups of basic rights and their fair share of our abundance.