What can we be thankful for this holiday season?
The holiday season is a time when many Americans try to let thoughts of politics recede in favor of good will towards their neighbors. (Or not: Sometimes we get stuck arguing politics with distant family members at the holiday meal.) Pundits and politicians spend most of the year focusing on what divides us: Is there anything left that unites us? What should we be thankful for this holiday season? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.
This year, I find myself thankful for the 40 years of love I received from my mother-and deeply saddened that I'll never get to celebrate another Thanksgiving or Christmas with her. Linda Mathis died July 4, and my grief has waxed and waned since then, but the approach of the holidays has magnified my sense of loss to the limits of what I can bear.
There are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Americans sharing my renewed grief this week. During this last year, they have lost someone they loved-a mother, a father, a wife, a husband, a son or a daughter, or somebody else near and dear to them.
I hope they can find peace.
My mother was always generous and gentle, but it was during the holidays - it seems to me - that she became her essential self. At Thanksgiving, she was the ultimate host, to the remnants of her family, my father's family, to neighborhood residents with nowhere else to go, to stray friends that I brought home from college.
At Christmas, she was Mrs. Claus personified, matching generosity and thoughtfulness to produce gifts that told you she really cared, really listened to you and observed your tastes, that she loved you.
It wasn't until later, after she died, that I learned that her generosity spilled far beyond the bounds of family. She had spent recent years sending money to an international charity and corresponding with refugees whose lives she had helped. More than once over a meal, she prodded my father to pay the bill of some young family in eating in the same restaurant.
My mom wasn't a terribly political person, so I'll skip politics this week. To those of you who share my grief this season, whether you agree with me most weeks or not: It is my hope that you can feel thankful for the time you did have with your loved one. I miss my mother, but more than that, I still love her. Happy Holidays.
Maybe you heard about how Organizing for Action, Barack Obama's permanent campaign arm, sent out talking points recently to coach supporters how to defend the president's health care law against your crazy conservative uncle at the holiday dinner table. Please don't take the bait.
The holidays shouldn't be about political combat. It's bad enough that Black Friday store sales have begun crowding out Thanksgiving dinner. Let's not let our partisan differences ruin the rest of the year.
Rather, let's remember this is a time for charity and humility. When George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation in 1789, he urged citizens of the infant republic to "unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions."
In the midst of the Civil War "of unequaled magnitude and severity" - and mere months after the union victory at Gettysburg - Abraham Lincoln called on his fellow Americans to offer "humble penitence" to God "for our national perverseness and disobedience ... 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, tranquility and Union."
For millions of Americans, these are anxious and uncertain times full of uncivil discourse. But the holidays and waning days of the year allow for reflection and contemplation of our many blessings.
I'm thankful for the chance to write these columns most every week. Joel Mathis and I have been debating since 2008. Usually we disagree. Every once in awhile, we find accord. But what most readers won't know is that we are the very best of friends. Our collaboration wouldn't have lasted this long otherwise.
But I'm grateful especially for my wife and children, without whom I simply could not live. I was reminded recently just how easy it is to take their blessings for granted. That was a mistake. Every day is a miracle with them.
(Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal. Joel Mathis is a writer in Philadelphia. Email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Or see facebook.com/benandjoel.)