This year we Americans approach Thanksgiving with ruffled feathers and quivering wattles, alert for the edge of the axe. Our country’s 50-year joyride has hit the wall, and we wait for the "jaws of life." The imaginary wealth that puffed up our investments and inflated our national salary has blown like a mist back to Cloud Cuckoo Land. Apparently, a country really can’t go on forever manufacturing nothing but weapons, funding shopping sprees with IOUs and expecting the government to wipe every child’s nose. In the long run, you run out of Kleenex.
As Rudyard Kipling, who was right about nearly everything, once wrote:
In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don’t work you die."
"Work" in Kipling’s sense entailed producing things, and "thrift," as that good Victorian would have used it, meant refraining from purchasing stuff until one had accumulated the money. Conservatives used to understand such things, just as liberals once treasured liberty. As we watch the transition of power from the Pyramid Schemers to the Diversity Police, we might stop to wonder at what point we lost our collective minds. Offhand, I’d say it was around the time a music critic described Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees as a genius.
The depth of our economic collapse is still to be measured in shattered retirement fantasies, deferred dreams of college, second jobs, double-shifts, and bitter squabbling over scraps. I don’t envy our incoming president, the one-term senator and longtime "community organizer" who promised us change. Soon enough, millions may very well be cadging spare change from strangers, insulating our underheated homes with quarterly 401(k) statements, and growing potatoes in the yard.
But at least we put an end to Evil, spread freedom throughout the Islamic world, balanced the federal budget, left no child behind, preserved our constitutional liberties, captured Osama bin Laden, reversed Roe v. Wade, and maintained a modest foreign policy. They can’t take that away from me.
Now I look forward eagerly to universal health insurance, free scholarships for the needy, the return of our troops, the disarmament of Iran, victory in Afghanistan, and the melting of racial hostilities into a single, sustained national chorus of Kumbaya. Best of luck with all that, Barry.
If we want some grounds for gratitude, we won’t find it in the news.
Perhaps we can find it in church. In the Church, I mean — where conditions have ceased to be catastrophic, and now are merely mixed. Looking on the bright side, there were bishops all over the country who spoke out clearly on the sanctity of life. The orders that led the heresies of the 1970s are quickly dying off, while new groups like the Fraternity of St. Peter are so overwhelmed with applicants they actually have the luxury of screening them. Like Solzhenitsyn blinking back tears in Moscow, the classical liturgy of the West has returned from exile and is spreading the graces of reverence and contemplation to younger generations. Where Catholic schools are closing, homeschoolers are closing ranks, reclaiming the stern task parents once felt safe delegating: the education of their children.
At last, when we’re done sifting through all the tainted rubble of our mistakes, it is things like this that are left us, the things that God gave us and has not taken away. The love that’s woven of self-sacrifice for a cause, a spouse, or a son. The exquisite tapestry of natural Creation, whose vitality so far resists our waste and willfulness. The marble altars and stained glass left us by our forefathers. The symphonies and polyphony great men composed, the novels and poems they sweated to write — let us blow off the dust and revere them. The enclaves of freedom and order remaining in America, and what real wealth outlasts the winnowing. The gorgeous Art Deco lobbies of New York City, the well-ordered farms of Iowa, the missions still standing in San Francisco, the libraries (if not always the faculties) of our Catholic colleges.
None of this have we earned, but we have received it. And we can pass it on, if we make the effort. We must do a better job. We’ve lost the luxury of laziness, spent all our surplus and eaten half the seed corn. We are entering the lean years. It’s no time for grandiose fantasies, or projects of mass redemption. (You want change? Start with that diaper.) Like our countrymen in New Orleans after Katrina, we stand in the wake of a flood that washed away our vanities, our necessities. We squint in search of a rainbow.
Tough times will test spoiled souls like mine, and some of us will snap. We’ve all got to pray for each other, and for ourselves. And for the virtue of forbearance. We are walking the stony path our grandparents trod, through the thorns that made them the "Greatest Generation." In other countries, the Great Depression drove men to war and genocide. But not in America. The memory of that is grounds for hope. And for that I give thanks.