Double Thanksgiving 1863; Hope for 2019

Lincoln speaking, 1863, Chicago Tribune

In 1863 President Lincoln issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation for the “gracious gifts of the most high” that despite the sins of mortals “has remembered us with mercy.” He proposed the fourth Thursday in November for this celebration (same as in modern times, except when presidents moved the date back to assist retailers with more time for Christmas shopping).

As a child I remember dressing up in white aprons and Pilgrim hats to recreate the “first Thanksgiving” in 1621 near Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts. My mother read a story she’d written about that event. Maybe it happened like that. I hope it did.

More than a century and a half later George Washington also proposed a Thanksgiving celebration in 1789 after Revolutionary warfare had ceased and the Treaty of Paris signed (1883).

But annual celebrations were inconsistent UNTIL President Lincoln declared a federal holiday and encouraged Americans to celebrate in unison: “It seemed for me fit and proper that it should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the American people.” (Words written by Secretary of State William Seward)

We often forget, or maybe never knew, that Lincoln used Secretary Seward’s words because he remained in his bed after contracting smallpox at the time of the Gettysburg Address in Pennsylvania, November 19.

“I invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, at sea, and living abroad, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving . . .to heal the wounds of war and to restore as soon as may be consistent with Divine purposes to thee full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and Union.”

In 2019, one hundred and fifty-six years later, we Americans find ourselves once again divided, not North-South, but politically so that in some places the division is within households, between spouses, neighbors and friends who struggle to find common ground. In some cases this is not based on philosophy, dogma, or party, but on the parsing of “facts” that may or may not be. May we test the waters for one day and find what we HAVE in common.

This is an American’s prayer for Thanksgiving to appreciate what we have accomplished together as a nation. To acknowledge the combined efforts of each and every one, for example, the newborns and students who give us hope for the future, mothers and fathers who have the honor and the responsibility to create the next generation, teachers who instill a love of learning, generation X and Z already seeking solutions, the military who are on the frontlines in war and disasters, and their families who share them with us, cooks who prepare healthy meals, those who make products to help us be productive (computers and whatever comes next), those who help us maintain our bodies (gyms and pools), workers who build our homes, fix our cars, preserve and restore our health, and volunteers everywhere who spread their human glue to hold it all together. Thank you each and everyone.

This comes as a reminder that Americans have been in tight places before. Somehow, through Providence, hard work, or sheer luck, we’ve succeeded as a nation—always room to do and be better, but we stuck together.

Lincoln, like other Presidents after him who did not want to frighten their constituents, suffered alone and came under greater physical threat from disease than we originally knew, according to recent scholarship.

We now know that Lincoln had a fever, became dizzy, very pale, suffered severe headaches, and back pains and felt ill prior to delivering the address at Gettysburg. His valet, William Johnson, a black man who went with Lincoln to Gettysburg, contracted smallpox after serving Lincoln there, and died of the disease upon his return. The President mourned the loss of Johnson in Washington and he himself did not recover for three weeks, not in time for the Thanksgiving he proclaimed. Lincoln began to feel himself around December 10, in time to prepare for Christmas and pray for peace the following year.

Peace would not come until April 1865, the same week in which Lincoln died of an assassin’s bullet. But after Gettysburg Lincoln was able to see the Emancipation Proclamation begin to take effect and by 1865 be believed that the country would remain unified and eventually become one again. Had he not survived 1863, the outcome might have been different. For that we can be truly thankful and pray again that America’s people look at the glass half full, instead of half empty, and work together to fill it up.

P.S. This suggestion may seem Pollyanna in light of current affairs, impeachment hearings for two weeks, and both the Republicans and Democrats far from settling on a candidate the divided nation might support. We may be on the brink of an even more difficult moment, but again, ours is a strong nation, created by strong minds and stronger people. This division did not occur overnight and it won’t be resolved quickly. But small steps, like finding areas of common interest, being willing to see what can be achieved together, might help begin a reconciliation between those willing to bridge the gap. That could be how Americans slowly emerge from their bunkers and begin the painful process of rebuilding trust and believing again that we can find ways, however small, to work towards being one nation again.

Persistence Wins. . . Eventually!

Persistence – the difference between Mediocrity and Greatness! Edublox

Each of us struggles with some failure before we ever achieve the thrill of success, like Henry Melville’s 1851 albatross Moby Dick, which took 12 years to complete. English students still dive in to learn about how his mutiny mirrors the deepest corners of our psyche. No murky water for me, but a three-year struggle to craft a book—re-focused to tell about women caught up in the Civil War.

Although the finish line won’t arrive tomorrow, persistence has helped me appreciate the natural twists and turns built into the creative process. Tenacity helps stake out a claim in an endeavor where we have a chance of success. Without due diligence to determine our strengths, we might spin our wheels and not move within range of success.

A few years ago I marched off in a new direction, thinking sales, health insurance sales, would turn the crank for me. Not having huge difficulty with studying for exams, I put hours into learning the rules of the industry and passing the tests (in both Virginia and Texas). But my heart wasn’t in it and I didn’t excel in sales.

Inventors Have It

Once you identify your talent, it’s easier to love your work, even when it doesn’t love you back initially. Persistence WILL pay off if you’re aimed in the right direction. But it could take a while. That’s where Thomas Edison comes to mind. He said: “The most certain way to succeed is always to try ONE MORE Time.” It took him 1,000 tries with different chemicals and filaments before he “discovered” the light bulb that would work.

Inventors are known for having an unworldly belief in the future success of their ideas—why else would they keep going against all odds?  B.F. Skinner, Psychology Professor at Harvard University, had a different approach. He said: “A failure is not always a mistake. It may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying.”

We’ve all come to think of Albert Einstein as the quintessential genius, but he thought his brilliance emerged from another source.  “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with a problem longer.” That stick-to-it-ness seems to show a pattern among the people deemed “successful.”

Athletes Have It

The willingness to put every ounce of strength on the field can be seen in championship athletic events. Tennis’s Billy Jean King bucked the system to play against a male opponent to show the strength of female players and lost initially. She broke the ceiling for female tennis players who came after her to receive better pay, recognition, and credibility. She told them: “Champions keep playing until they get it right.”

Green Bay Packers Football Coach Vince Lombardi and winner of the first two Super Bowls endorsed tenacity. “The real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back. That’s Real Glory.”

International events going all the way back to the original Olympics in Athens, bring together athletes with a range of political, social, and religious beliefs who have refused to quit their quest to excel during war. While working at the1996 Atlanta Olympics as a media field volunteer, I saw first-hand the wounds from the war in Croatia still cut deep when the Croats prepared to compete with the Yugoslavs in Water Polo. Athletes on both sides struggled to find pools in which to practice. Several would not shake hands with their opponents. Some later said their teammates could not forget the atrocities committed by their enemies against their relatives.

In the first contest the Croats beat the Romanians 11-6, but later lost to the US 10-8 and Italy 10-8 in some of the highest scoring contests. In the Finals US overtook Yugoslavia 12-8 and Spain beat Croatia 7-5 for the gold medal. At the medal ceremony, members of the Yugoslavian team attended when Croatian coach Perica Bukic and his team accepted the second place medal. Yugoslavia came in 8th. He represented Yugoslavia at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, where the team won the gold medal in water polo. He became sports director for the Zagreb team, a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, and a member of the Croatian Parliament from 2003-2008. Persistence and victory don’t always mean taking the gold, but might an ultimate prize in life.

The Croatian team embodies what Babe Ruth said: “You just can’t beat the person who never gives up!”

Mere Mortals

But we’re not all athletes, for some of us, just keeping up, keeping up can rule the day. Sometimes life can be overwhelming, like it could have been for Winston Churchill during World War II. He just stayed the course and indeed, never gave up. He counseled us: “When you’re going through hell, just keep going.” Sure, don’t want to stop there—it’s got to get better.

But finally, if you’ve made it through HELL, it’s time to find a place and a skill that warms your insides and challenges your brain. America’s personal cheerleader and taskmaster, Dale Carnegie, lays out a simple, yet winning approach to life: “Throw yourself into some work you believe in with all your heart, live for it, die for it, and you will find the happiness you had thought could never be yours.”

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People. (Updated to: in the Digital Age)

Gratitude Magnifies Life’s Blessings

Google picture appropriate to the season of gratitude.

Sometimes the words and actions that we hear and see around us do not inspire us. But gratitude does! Now the sacrifices of the men and women who have served in the military are raised for all citizens to appreciate their service. So too the less considered among us the family, friends, and relatives of those who have perished on battlefields around the world. They carry with them this loss for the remainder of their lives, no matter how they appear to carry on.

Another type of graditude comes from those who bravely carry on their lives despite whatever burdens have been laid upon them. This week a 27-year-old acquaintance expressed gratitude to be alive. Not what I expected from this full-of-life woman, who never discussed her struggles the first year I knew her. She never knows when a change in weather—rain or colder temperatures—can bring her Sickle Cell Anemia to life. The constant pain in her hip comes as her own cells destroy her body.

But SHE is happy to be alive and works to make a difference in the lives of others—establishing a nonprofit to combine sports, the arts, and academics for high school students to help discover their talents and use them for success in college, the trades, and life.

Reluctantly she relinquished the stress of high tech sales, where she excelled, to care for herself. It’s just a step along the way for her. “I’ve found what seemed to be a failure, gave me an opportunity to grow and succeed,” she said. “It’s all a matter of how you look at life and move forward.”

Lunch Box Reminders

On lucky days I see the notes on my grandchildren’s returning lunch boxes. One said: “Fill someone else’s bucket and you’ll overfill your own.” Perceptive notes that come from a mother and father who talk with their children about keeping stoked with positives to avoid anger and disagreements. Thinking about others’ needs in early elementary can be challenging, but that may be just where gratitude begins.

Overcoming Life’s Challenges: Live on Your Own Terms

Time and financial pressures weigh on each of us, but often we neglect to realize how reaching out to assist others can uplift us and soothe our soul, if only for a moment. It’s not the money that can build a GoFundMe, but the willingness to help one and other—at a human level—that enriches our lives.

“A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can reach,” John Bunyan, an Englishman credited with writing A Pilgrim’s Progress in 1655. The Pay Back can be endless, maybe stretching three centuries forward to Elizabeth Gilbert, the Eat Pray Love novelist, who agrees gratitude can provide a forever thank you by encouraging you to do it again, to keep the circle rolling.

Saying It in a Song

Popular songwriters guarantee you will recognize their message by putting it to a catchy tune. Who can forget the Beatles’ “With a Little Help from my Friends,” or the theme from the Golden Girls: “Thank you for Being a Friend”? Then there’s my all-time favorite: “Your Song” by Elton John—“How wonderful life is while you’re in the world.” All remind us of the need to have people in our lives.

“How to Train a Dragon,” popular video with the young elementary crowd, features animated creatures and one embarrassed and bullied weakling—Hiccup—who struggles to instruct his dinky dragon, Toothless. Joy comes when the young dragon master learns his under-nourished dragon will respond to his jokes as opposed to the yelling imposed on the other non-responding dragons. Ah-ha. A hopeful sign.

Set Up Reminders to Spark Your Happiness

Parting thoughts on how to re-train the parts of your personality that fail to appreciate your bounty.  (1) Consider a Gratitude Journal to point out the good and brave acts you see in others, then jot down ideas of your own. Researchers at the University of Miami and University of California-Davis, have found that writing down what you’re thankful for and who deserves your gratitude can actually improve your personal happiness. Now that’s a two-fer worth considering.

(2) Being satisfied with the bounty you’ve received, instead of clamoring for more, can also improve your happiness. Who will ever receive EVERYTHING they want. (3) Meditate on the beauty in your life and who has brought that joy to you. Write that person a letter this season of gratitude, even if you can no longer deliver it. See if you aren’t just a wee bit happier and decide to repeat your steps into “gratitude.”


Enthusiasm Adds Passion to Life

Rides down the river energize a Golden to reveal their inherent enthusiasm.

Call it the sweet nectar that lifts our mundane existence to another level. A gift given only to us—birds don’t have it, nor most dogs, cats, or geese. We might get an argument over monkeys, but probably not zebras or leopards. Mainly just us and selectively a Golden Retriever or two.

Icons who pushed Americans to achieve success in business, sports, the arts, politics, war, and life have praised personal enthusiasm as their catalyst. Ralph Waldo Emerson laid it out: Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. Novelist Paulo Coelho sees it spanning every endeavor: “An enthusiastic heart finds opportunities everywhere.”

This human trait displayed in spades this week during the World Series between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals (“Nats”). The Nats had it, even when they weren’t winning. Renown football coach Vince Lombardi inspired: “If you aren’t fired up with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm.”  No ballplayers were being fired during the World Series, but it is a testing ground that is years in the making to create a team able to withstand the rigors of a long baseball season, followed by a “now or never” series. Washington managed to win four Series games on the road to clinch it all.

It took years for the match-up to happen. Houston became “Astros” when they moved into the Astrodome in 1965 nestled in the home of the nation’s (Manned) Space Center, but welcomed the Nationals to Minute Maid Park for the 2019 Series. In a switcheroo, the original Washington Senators’ team left to become the Texas Rangers in 1972. Baseball didn’t return to Washington until 2005 when the Montreal Expos moved south. The subsequent 14 years have awakened an unexpected passion in the souls of federal workers and politicians alike—the American Pastime!

In baseball, unlike other field sports, the rivalry can get heated as the fans demonstrate their loyalty to their perspective teams, winning or losing. In other athletic events, malicious adjectives fly between the fans, sometimes followed by projectiles or punches often coming from an excess of enthusiasm, beer, or both. Perhaps this is naive, but being a Nats fan (after a childhood as a legacy Chicago Cubs fan) I heard about none of that. Instead, just a light-hearted, “We didn’t have a big enough fly swatter!” That seems civilized for a loyal Houston fan.

But it’s not just baseball or sports in general that generates enthusiasm. Successful inventor Henry Ford obviously carried a passion for moving from horses to a four-wheeled machines, but also carved a path for others: “Enthusiasm is the sparkle in your eyes, the swing in your gait, the grip of your hand, the irresistible surge of will and energy to execute your ideas.”

Enthusiasm can also work to raise the downhearted and provide a reason to rally for a cause. Winston Churchill drew his countrymen together when nightly air raids and continuous bombings were decimating London and would have terrorized and paralyzed a less courageous nation. He could see England’s future when no one else could. “Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm,” he said. Churchill wore down America’s Franklin Roosevelt until he finally sent his airmen across the Atlantic and he began building the planes and tanks essential to the fight.

Churchill could not be swayed by the naysayers who believed Hitler would conquer England, just as the Nazis had run across Poland, Eastern Europe, and raced across France. He stood like the father in the door protecting the innocent. His belief in the future remained strong, as if he were listening to H. Jackson Brown: “Protect your enthusiasm from the negativity of others.”

America’s cheerleader, Dale Carnegie, taught a generation to believe in themselves and to become the optimistic and successful salesmen and women of the world. “Flaming enthusiasm backed by horse sense and persistence is the quality that most frequently makes for success,” he wrote. This flaming enthusiasm exposes itself through modern political discussions—don’t think we can call it “discourse.”

This wouldn’t be the first time political discussions have fallen into a food fight of ugly words and course actions, but now the words act like swords that pierce, divide, and destroy. Political discussions no longer carry a banter of policies or an attempt to come closer to solutions to fermenting problems. Politicians rush to opposite walls, believing that will be enough for a win. But the country remains in the middle, like children, some supporting one parent or the other in their battles, but just wanting the ranting to stop and whatever passes for normal to return.

Enthusiasm can be used for good or ill, but in times like these it’s important to remember to power our inventions, enliven our friendly sports competition, build back a nation’s gumption, or remind us what we’re capable of doing. The value of enthusiasm, despite its potential for evil, is strong enough to recommend it as an antidote to what ails us. Encourage your children to find their passion, whatever endeavor they choose.

American businessman and politician Bruce Barton urged parents: “If you give your son or daughter only one gift, let it be enthusiasm.”