As Utahns gather around their Thanksgiving tables this year, it is hard to escape a certain feeling of unease. Despite so much that has been good this past year, the future seems murky and uncertain.
Obviously, the threat of war in the Persian Gulf casts a pall over the Thanksgiving season, even though any actual conflict would be thousands of miles away. But with hundreds of thousands of U.S. servicemen and women at battle stations in the Middle East, the problem seems close to home.There are other dark clouds over the celebration. The economy seems weak, some people have lost their jobs; spurred by higher gasoline prices, a noticeable inflation is affecting everyone's pocketbook. And despite a recent election, there is a certain restlessness about government and its ability to adequately function.
Yet perhaps this sense of disquiet can add to the meaning of Thanksgiving, rather than detract from it. A genuine feeling of gratitude arises not from a self-satisfied contentment, but from an awareness of how fragile life's circumstances can be and how much we owe to God and our fellow-beings for the good things we enjoy.
Too often, people take great blessings for granted. Americans, particularly, have a tendency to forget that their mostly favorable circumstances are the exception, not the norm, for the biggest part of the world. Only when the reality of that other, less-fortunate world intrudes do Americans stop to consider how privileged they are.
It is true that since last Thanksgiving, some of the world is better off than it was earlier. There is more freedom in Europe, the Cold War appears to be over, the Berlin Wall is down, and Germany is unified under democratic rule. Communism is even faltering in the Soviet Union as the country reaches toward the West and free markets. These changes are reason for gratitude.
The old admonition to "count your blessings" is still good advice. For most Utahns, the list can be embarrassingly long. Simple things like a home, food, clothing should not be forgotten. But even these basic, materialistic things are less important than a measure of health, family and good friends, a sense of hope and faith and love.
Thanksgiving is not simply a blind plunge into a surfeit of food and contentment. It is time for humility, a time to meditate, to be more aware, to look inside oneself, to ask some questions: What have I done to deserve all these things? How can I repay my blessings? How can I be better? In what way can I help others?
This Thanksgiving offers a chance in an uncertain world to remember the worthwhile elements of life and to put things in proper perspective.