At a recent local grade school’s Veterans Day celebration, I watched grandkids hold up American flags with squiggly red lines on a white sheet of paper and their blue handprint for the field of stars while they enthusiastically sang “God Bless America!” I realized, yes, God has, indeed, blessed America. For all her warts, this is still the best country on earth. This season of giving thanks could prompt a thoughtful inventory of the reasons we should be thankful we get to live here.
My list: I’m thankful for decent roads, running water, electricity, computers, TVs and phones in the vast majority of citizens’ lives. I’m thankful for freedoms and rights that let me responsibly say what I want to say, live where I want to live and do what I want to do. I’m thankful those freedoms let me go to school where I want so I can learn what I want, move from state to state without obstruction, own a home and a gun, drive a car, wear what I want to wear, worship how and where I want, allow me access to information, and let me vacation anywhere I choose and then come back home. Those freedoms and rights also assume I’m innocent until proven guilty, let me marry the man I love and allow me to start any business at any time. A profound freedom is the right to vote for our leaders. I’m humbled to realize these liberating freedoms are not enjoyed by the majority of the world’s people.
I’m thankful for spacious skies, purple mountains and amber waves of grain. In this state of Utah I can ski snow-covered mountains in the morning, hike alpine trails in the afternoon and enjoy a red rock sunset. I’ve traveled the length of this state a few times this past summer, never ceasing to marvel at the utter beauty of its changing landscape. I used to take that for granted until a visitor from England traveled that distance with me and not five minutes passed without another exclamation from him about the beauty of this state. He loved its wildness, its variety, its color and its immenseness. He even loved the long stretches of what I used to think was boring landscape until I viewed it with him. He also loved the people we met during the journey, exclaiming at how polite and helpful they were. Seeing it through his eyes opened mine to things I had not seen.
Thinking of that wide country, especially its ruggedness, I’m thankful for pioneer forefathers and mothers whose courage and vision carved this place into what it is today. I occasionally wonder what they would think were they to return today. They’d probably cringe at some of the nonsense going on. But overall, they would be astonished.
I’m thankful for the freedoms this country’s Constitution ensures. It’s true that sometimes we’re a sniveling, whining, arguing lot. As various political shenanigans lurch through our lives, we predictably get distracted from what really counts. We could easily believe there are some in office who seem determined to tear down what has taken centuries to build up. But this really isn’t in their hands — it’s still in ours, the average American citizens who vote these people in and out. So we suffer the nonsense for a season and then attempt to improve the situation with what we hope are better leaders—because we have that freedom to do so.
It’s hard to not be deterred by the “except fors” they generate: I love this country — except for the bickering. I love its people — except for those who don’t see things the way I do. I love democracy — except for the parts I don’t agree with. I love freedom of speech — except for those who abuse it. And so on. But that basis of freedom is precisely why this country has lasted. And in spite of all that, there’s no stream of people flowing out of this country to a “better place,” because in our minds, that place doesn’t exist.
So this Thanksgiving, when we’re sitting around the table counting blessings, count the country. Consider the sacrifices of pilgrims and pioneers who carved out this existence for us. Take the moment to really consider what we have here — and then pledge to do whatever we can to ensure our children and grandchildren will enjoy the same.
Yes. God has blessed America.
P.S. One more thing I’m thankful for is the opportunity to learn. I’ve learned from a few readers that what I described in my last column as the “flu” was likely a stomach or intestinal bug, and not at all related to the flu shot. Goodness, go get your flu shot! And be thankful you can.