The last Thursday of November is set aside in the United States as a day for giving thanks to whomever gratitude is to be given. This year I find myself wishing to express gratitude for several features of the nation in which I was born and in which I have once again, after a long absence, taken up residence. In giving thanks for the gifts of the United States, I find it impossible not to give thanks to all the peoples of the planet earth without whom the United States would be meaningless. This year I am feeling particularly grateful for the following:
- E pluribus unum. I am grateful for the diversity of people who have made their homes in the United States and who have enriched the nation through their presence. I value the contributions of the Afghan, Albanian, Algerian, Angolan, Apache, Argentine, Armenian, Assamese, Australian, Austrian, Bangladeshi, Belgian, Bermudan, Bhutanese, Blackfoot, Brazilian, Bulgarian, Burmese, Cambodian, Canadian, Cherokee, Cheyenne, Chickasaw, Chilean, Chinese, Chinook, Chippewa, Choctaw, Colombian, Comanche, Congolese, Corsican, Costa Rican, Cree, Creek, Croatian, Crow, Cuban, Cypriot, Czech, Dakota, Danish, Delaware, Dutch, Ecuadorian, Egyptian, English, Estonian, Ethiopian, Fijian, Finnish, French, Gambian, Georgian, German, Ghanaian, Greek, Guatemalan, Guyanese, Haitian, Hawaiian, Honduran, Hopi, Hungarian, Indian, Indonesian, Inuit, Iranian, Iraqi, Irish, Iroquois, Israeli, Italian, Jamaican, Japanese, Jordanian, Kenyan, Keresian, Kiowa, Korean, Kuwaiti, Lakota, Lao, Latvian, Lenape, Liberian, Libyan, Lithuanian, Luxembourgian, Macedonian, Malaysian, Manchurian, Maltese, Mexican, Mohawk, Mongolian, Moroccan, Nakota, Narragansett, Navajo, New Zealand, Nicaraguan, Nigerian, Ninnuock, Norwegian, Ojibwa, Osage, Ottawa, Pakistani, Paraguayan, Pequot, Peruvian, Philippine, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Rwandan, Salish, Samoan, Saudi, Scottish, Seminole, Seneca, Senegalese, Serbian, Shoshone, Slovak, Slovenian, Somali, South African, Spanish, Sri Lankan, Swedish, Swiss, Syrian, Tanzanian, Tewa, Thai, Tibetan, Tiwa, Towa, Turkish, Ugandan, Ukrainian, Uruguayan, Ute, Uzbek, Venezuelan, Vietnamese, Welsh, Wichita, Yemeni, Zambian, and Zimbabwean peoples, and to the many peoples whose names I have neglected to mention. I value the contributions they have made to the literature, the music, the cuisine, the philosophy, the religion and the wisdom of my home and native land.
- The First Amendment. I am grateful to the framers of the Constitution of the United States, and especially to those who formulated the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.I cherish the genius of those who saw the value of having a nation without any established religion, a nation in which every resident is free to practice any religion or none without fear of persecution or interference, so long as the practice of a religion does not abridge the rights and freedoms to others to do as their conscience dictates. And since the rights outlined in the First Amendment have been challenged at various times, I am grateful that the Supreme Court of the United States has consistently found against encroachments on these freedoms.
- The Fifteenth, Nineteenth and Twenty-sixth Amendments to the US Constitution. The fifteenth gave the right to vote to all citizens regardless of race; the nineteenth made women eligible to vote; and the twenty-sixth lowered the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen. Had these amendments not been ratified in 1870, 1920 and 1971 respectively, we would probably not be looking forward to the inauguration in January 2009 of the first African-American president. May Obama be the first in a long series of presidents that reflect the diversity of the United States.
- Our North American Neighbors. I am grateful that the country in which I live enjoys a harmonious and peaceful relationship with our immediate neighbors, Canada and Mexico, two countries that I esteem and value in their own right.
- The National Park System. I am grateful for the foresight and wisdom of those who established and who maintain the National Park Service and the US Forest Service. I am grateful that there are still wilderness areas where wildlife can flourish and remain unmolested by the human exploitation of their habitat. The area of the United States in which I feel most at home is the Southwestern region, which is rich in national parks and national forests that help preserve an extraordinary variety of natural habitats and places of astonishing beauty.
- The Twenty-second Amendment of the US Constitution Thanks to the amendment, ratified in 1951, that places a limit on how long one person can serve as president, I shall be among the 80% of the country that will be rejoicing that this will be our last Thanksgiving under the presidency of George W. Bush. It will probably be years before the full reckoning can be made of all the damage his administration has done to his country and to the whole world, and we won't be knowing until a few decades from now how much of that damage will turn out to be irreversible.
After writing these expressions of gratitude, I went back and reread my Thanksgiving message of 2007 and note that I was feeling grateful for almost exactly the same things then. And so I add one further expression of gratitude: I am grateful that all the things I treasured last year have survived one more year to be treasured again this year.