Thanksgiving is different this year. Maybe you noticed.
At the time of this writing, the United States has more than 12.6 million coronavirus cases and has suffered more than a quarter of a million deaths. Restrictions from governments and pleas from public health officials are changing the traditional Thanksgiving plans of most Americans, as only 27% say they will enjoy their turkey and pie with people from outside their own home.
Grumble and complain about not being able to gather with your entire family or the hypocrisy and pettiness of governors imposing arbitrary rules in the name of fighting the virus as you will, but this is the plate Americans have been handed. As bitter as it may taste, let us find the good in it. It can be easy for a population starved for normalcy and living parasitically off social media to blind themselves to that which is hopeful and focus on all that is disrupted, all that is dire, and all that is indefinitely postponed.
Nothing is more contagious than a sour mood. But wallowing in misfortune does not a thankful person make.
Victor E. Frankl was a Holocaust survivor who lived to write about some of the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps. His book, “Man’s Search For Meaning,” has sold millions of copies worldwide and been voted one of the most influential books in history. His story is as riveting as his message is encouraging.
Frankl was a successful a psychiatrist in Vienna before the Nazi’s invaded and closed his practice down. He and his family were Jewish and sent to concentration camps during the height of the war. His mother and father were killed in those camps. Later, he and his wife were separated, never to see each other again.
This was a man who had every right to be ungrateful, sour, and miserable. Yet, he chose not to be.
In his book, Frankl draws on personal testimony from his time in Auschwitz to argue that man can rise above the influences of their surroundings and be optimists in the most dismal of circumstances.
“Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress,” he writes. “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
This outlook should not be lost upon Americans as we endure yet another disrupted national holiday due to circumstances outside our control and restrictions imposed despite our wishes and protests. Some freedoms have been taken out of fear of the virus, but discussion of that travesty is not the point of this article. Rather, it is a call to thankfulness, a call to be joyful, and a reminder that this is always our choice.
The first Thanksgiving feast was held 399 years ago in 1621. This feast was less than a year removed from what must have been the winter of the Pilgrim’s nightmares. Half of the Mayflower’s original 102 passengers didn’t survive to see spring. They, like Frankl, had plenty of reasons to wallow in self-pity. Yet, the survivors took time to recognise that “by the goodness of God, we are so far from want.”
To say the least, the world will be glad to see the ball drop and the chapter of 2020 in world history come to an end. 1863 was another tumultuous year in American history, one that 2020 pales in comparison to. The Civil War was in full swing pitting neighbor against neighbor and brother against brother.
But 1863 was also the year that Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation that seems just as appropriate now as it was then. He urges his fellow citizens to dedicate the last Thursday in November “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens” and “commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.”
This Thursday, may we be reminded that we are not automatons subjugated to the predispositions of distressing news that surrounds us. We can still hold fast to our innermost freedom to choose our attitude towards disfavored circumstances. This crisis, if nothing else, can be an exercise in optimizing our freedom of spirit. We would do well to make our “chosen way” the way of hope and gratefulness.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.