“Over the river, and through the wood,
trot fast, my dapple-gray!
Spring over the ground like a hunting-hound!
For ’tis Thanksgiving Day.”
These are hard times that we are living through now. Monsters use prehistoric technology to behead their victims, and then use high tech to show off their sick handiwork all over the Internet. (Sort of like deranged, bizarro-world kindergarteners coming home with finger paintings – only, you know, different.)
Monsters invade sanctuaries to kill men deep in prayer. Monsters drive cars into small children. Monsters shoot missiles at innocents. Monsters invade elementary schools with guns and shoot children. Monsters in human form seem to be all around us.
But we cannot give in to monsters.
Sometimes it seems as if the only way to maintain hope is through a willed naivetÃ©, a resolute refusal to believe that only bad things are possible. And if occasional willed naivetÃ© were the only way to let in any light, then we should go right ahead, and do as Alice’s White Queen did – believe at least six impossible things before breakfast.
This week, we can look to the example of Helen Fellowes, who died two weeks ago – her story is on page 10. She was 102 years old, and she survived the Holocaust; in fact she was one of its oldest remaining survivors. She already had been well into adulthood when her life was interrupted, made into hell, and almost ended. But she did not give in to despair. We do not know what allowed her to live such a long and full life – certainly some of it is the luck of the genetic draw, despite the malevolence of history – but we can assume that some of it was the sheer stubborn refusal to give up. Ever.
So now Thanksgiving is coming. Summer is long gone, the leaves are almost all down and the few that are left are brown and clinging to their trees in what we know is a futile effort to stay above ground.
But Thanksgiving is a festival that celebrates the romance of the American adventure, of the American dream if only we could still use those words without the heavy-handed irony that attaches to them now. Yes, we can get all cynical about it, go on about the oppression of the natives, and we probably would be right. But we also can give in to the beauty of the Currier and Ives-ness of it, to the vision of neat fields and pastures and white glistening snow.
We Jews, just like all other Americans, are extraordinarily lucky to be living in this country. It is imperfect, yes – it is after all a human institution – but it is very good. It offers us democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the opportunity to pursue happiness, both collectively and individually.
This Thanksgiving, let us all take a day or two off from fear and anger to glory in what we have. Let’s allow our imaginary dapple-gray (whatever that might be – yes, a horse, but beyond that who knows?) to trot freely. Let’s allow our spirits to spring over the ground like hunting-hounds.
And while we’re at it, let’s remember Giving Tuesday, a project, spearheaded locally for the Jewish community by the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and joined enthusiastically by many other agencies. It asks us to give thanks for what we have on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving painlessly, on line. (Or you can show up with fellow volunteers to give back in person.)
Let’s give thanks for life and light and love, and for the country that allows us to pursue them.