“Even the weariest river winds somewhere safe to sea.”
– A.C. Swinburne
Thanksgiving: everyone’s favorite holiday. Just the right length, all the food we can hold, and time to relax before that other holiday season begins. So, let’s pretend we are children again and answer the age-old question: What were you thankful for this Thanksgiving? Was it something special, or the usual health, family, “good food, good meat, good Lord, let’s eat”?
The child in me has always played this game. Though some years were uneventful and my blessing list bland and brief, others overflowed with thanks for new births, friendships, career opportunities, and more. Some included prayers of relief, because a crisis had been averted or overcome.
This year, rather than dwell on my own household, I’m thinking of that larger family we call America. Just now, amid turmoil over selecting a new leader, and more anger spilling across her towns and airwaves than we’ve seen in decades, I wonder: If this polarization continues, will there be anything left of America to give thanks for.
I wrote the previous paragraphs in November 2000, following an election so close it was not decided on Election Day, as an anxious country waited weeks to learn whether Al Gore or George W. Bush would become our new president.
If anything, although we did have an election night decision this time, the political divide in the country seems even greater than it was 12 years ago. And, while there are plenty of pundits wiser than I analyzing the results and forecasting the years ahead, I’d like to add a postscript to that earlier column which I called, “Thanks for an enduring nation.”
As I’ve done twice before, I spent election week with my good friend, former Columbia County resident Ginny Husen, in her California home. No matter how the election turned out, we decided, we long-time political buddies wanted to celebrate – or commiserate – together. With a three-hour later bedtime than you folks had back here, we knew the results by the end of the day, and we were not celebrating. Though California might be a blue state, we two, along with a majority of Georgians and Columbia County voters, had hoped for a different outcome.
Ginny was busy the next morning and I spent the time walking pensively through her neighborhood. The warm temperature, cloudless sky and row upon row of beautifully landscaped patio homes lifted my spirits. Blankets of roses, towering shrubs and flowering trees lined the streets, nearly hiding another sight in front of every home. It was trash day. Still, rather than blighting the landscape, those containers full of things now deemed obsolete became a purposeful addition to this idyllic scene.
Beauty in trash bins? Other than the fact that the bins really were attractive, it’s what was placed inside that caught my attention. Had the election been held only in this neighborhood, they still might be counting votes. Almost every lawn had displayed a political sign the day before, about half for Romney, the other half for Obama, and those signs now stuffed inside the bins shouted to the world and to me, “It’s over!”
I tried not to think of the expense those signs represented, and just bask in the freedom of no more incessant requests for my funds or vote, at least until the next election.
But those signs and trash bins represented only a single ending. Other “signs” proved to me that so much else would continue: God must still be in His heaven, because the sun had come up again, the sky was blue again, and the roses still sparkled underneath. Other walkers smiled as they passed by and I thought of all that unites us, and relegated our likely political differences to my obsolete bin. Just then a memory resurfaced.
“Are you an ambidextrous Christian?” the speaker asked. I knew the question had nothing to do with being right or left-handed, and waited for the explanation: “Are you a Christian only when things are going well, or can you still trust God when circumstances are not as you wish them to be?”
As if on cue, I focused on one final, unforgettable sight in that California landscape, the ring of mountains completely surrounding the towns, homes and residents below. Wherever I looked, that unbroken horizon spoke but one metaphor: the arms of the Creator were still there, too, and I dared hope those rugged mountains were a heavenly and visible sign of endurance for my country, and for me.
I’m not naïve. I believe the country is facing rough, even rugged times. Each of us will need to decide whether or not we are ambidextrous citizens, too, but I’m hopeful. The Book of Ecclesiastes tells us, “God makes all things beautiful in His time.” I’m willing to wait, work and pray that, like the sun and the roses and those massive mountains, the leaders and citizens of America alike will recognize her potential for endurance, and work tirelessly toward that end.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer, and author of the book, As Long As the Rivers Run: Highlights from Columbia County’s Past. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)