For those in the northeast still feeling the after effects of Hurricane Sandy, the Thanksgiving holiday is bittersweet. It is indeed an opportunity to count our blessings – of life, health, family, community, and freedom – at the same time we survey the damage and rebuild. It recalls the first Thanksgiving when the Pilgrims offered thanks for surviving a harsh winter and for a nourishing harvest.
The parallel that comes to my mind is the aftermath of the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. How did a shocked and grieving nation celebrate Thanksgiving and move on following this man-made tragedy? Murdered on November 22, the new President Lyndon B. Johnson addressed the nation on Thanksgiving Day, November 28. I believe it might have been the most inspiring speech Johnson ever delivered. He said:
“All of us have lived through seven days that none of us will ever forget. We are not given the divine wisdom to answer why this has been, but we are given the human duty of determining what is to be, what is to be for America, for the world, for the cause we lead, for all the hopes that live in our hearts.”
While acknowledging the tragedy, Johnson then focused on reasons for gratitude.
“More than any generation before us, we have cause to be thankful, so thankful, on this Thanksgiving Day. Our harvests are bountiful, our factories flourish, our homes are safe, our defenses are secure. We live in peace…”
How do entire communities devastated by Sandy observe Thanksgiving this year? As always, families will join together for the traditional feast and camaraderie. In areas like Long Beach, N.Y., there will be community meals for those who have lost their homes. And – as in 1963 -- there will still be gratitude for the blessings that are often taken for granted.
But what is our “human duty” in the wake of Sandy?
The debate about whether the holiday buying season should begin on Thanksgiving Day or Black Friday seems crass, frivolous, and insensitive to those who are still suffering.
A more fitting alternative is the 92Y's new initiative to inaugurate a national day of spending that emphasizes giving back. Giving Tuesday, which will be launched November 27, is bringing together charities, families, businesses and individuals in an effort to transform the way people think about, talk about and participate in the giving season.
Find a way for your family, your community, your company or your organization to join this national celebration of our great tradition of generosity. You can help by spreading the word about the importance of giving back and joining in the conversation at givingtuesday.org, or on Twitter by following the hashtag #givingtuesday.