This time of year is always fitting for reflection, personally and as a state and nation. It’s healthy at least once a year to look in the rear-view mirror, take your mental and emotional temperature and look beyond the challenges of everyday living. Look at the sun, the moon, the stars … the vast blue sky. Breathe in the bigger picture.
Be thankful for the good we have. Hug a spouse, a child, a grandchild, a great-granchild, a sibling, a friend. How often we hear from those down on their luck or beset with grief: It could be worse. Most of us are blessed.
On Longboat Key, in Sarasota and Manatee, in Florida, and across America, we have reached a pause.
There’s a calm in the air. The bruising ride through the elections are over, and it’s as if the trains have pulled into the station to refresh and refuel. It’s a good time to think about the larger journey, to take a break, think about what we have and be glad.
For Americans, it has been an amazing journey, nearly four centuries from those trying days at Plymouth Rock, the place where the roots of this day took hold.
We like to re-tell parts of this rich story each Thanksgiving because of the two profound lessons that emerged from the Pilgrims’ experiences. These lessons have served as enduring foundations of who we are as Americans. Through the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, we learned of our forefathers’ faith in and gratitude for the Almighty; and we learned through the incredible hardships the Pilgrims endured that the key to the flourishing of liberty and material abundance lay in man’s selfish interests, that by serving his own interests, he serves others as well.
Lesson 1: In praise of Providence
Edward Winslow’s 1622 description of a Pilgrim feast is often regarded as the model from which grew our modern Thanksgiving tradition.
Winslow and Gov. William Bradford were the leaders of the Pilgrim settlement that landed at Cape Cod and eventually settled in Plymouth, Mass. The two kept diaries of the colonists’ settlement, and today their descriptive recollections stand as reminders of our social, religious and economic heritage. In a letter Winslow wrote to a friend Dec. 11, 1621, he laced his writing with multiple references and thanks to God:
• “Our corn did prove well, and God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn” ...
• “ … It has pleased God so to possess the Indians with a fear of us, and love unto us, that not only the greatest king amongst them, called Massasoit, but also all the princes and peoples round about us, have either made suit unto us or been glad of any occasion to make peace with us … ”
• “ … You might on our behalf give God thanks who hath dealt so favorably with us.”
Winslow’s words and references to God underscored his recognition and gratitude of the hand of God in his Colony’s abundance. He help lay the foundation that for nearly four centuries has proclaimed that America is not a secular nation.
Lesson 2: Perseverance leads to property, prosperity
The Pilgrims knew suffering.
Long before they held their feast with with the Indians, they encountered near-catastrophic hardships. For nearly two years, they almost starved. Of the 101 Pilgrims who arrived in 1620, nearly half were dead within a few months. Gov. Bradford wrote in his diary:
“Many sold away their clothes and bed coverings [to the Indians]; others (so base were they) became servants to the Indians, and would cut them wood and fetch them water for a capful of corn; others fell to plain stealing, both night and day, from the Indians … In the end, they came to that misery that some starved and died with cold and hunger. One in gathering shellfish was so weak as he stuck fast in the mud and was found dead in the place.”
And yet the Pilgrims persevered. As St. Paul once told the Romans “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
Out of this hope came an important decision, made by Bradford and the Pilgrims’ elders, that created another enduring lesson. This decision set the course for our nation’s prosperity over the next 389 years.
This was it: The Pilgrims turned from communal living, where everyone contributed food to a colony-operated warehouse, to private property.
Faced with starvation because of their communal arrangement, Gov. Bradford wrote, “The Governor and the chiefest among them gave way that they should set downe every man for his owne. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land.”
The results were miraculous.
“It made all hands very industrious,” Bradford wrote. “The women now went willingly into the field and took their little ones with them to set corn, which before they would allege weakness and inability. Some of the abler sort and more industrious had corn to spare and sell to others so any general want or famine hath not been among them since …”
After the colony converted to private ownership, Bradford wrote, “Three or four Pilgrims provided for themselves what used to take 30 to produce.”
We all admire the story of the Pilgrims.And as we gather for Thanksgiving across these United States, the lessons and tribulations of these forefathers are worth remembering and passing on to the next generation. They remind us that however difficult these times may be, we can do what the Pilgrims did.
We can persevere.
Indeed, Americans have always shown the character to persevere. And we have always been a nation of hope — that what we want we can make happen.
This is where we are on Nov. 25, 2010.
We are full of hope on Longboat Key that an expanded Longboat Key Club and Resort will help keep our town strong, vibrant and attractive. We are full of hope that the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort will be reborn. We are full of hope that the coming season will be better than the last for all of Sarasota and Manatee counties. We are full of hope that through the efforts of our new governor, Floridians will indeed get back to work. And we are full of hope that this month’s national election results have sent a decisive message to Washington: that we can no longer mortgage our children and grandchildren’s future as we have to this day.
We are full of hope indeed. But on this day, Longboat Key and America are also thankful. We are blessed with life, liberty, our families and abundance.
A blessed Thanksgiving to all.
THE FIRST OFFICIAL THANKSGIVING: GEORGE WASHINGTON’S 1789 PROCLAMATION
WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANKSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”
NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and assign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish Constitutions of government for our sasety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
And also, that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in publick or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us); and to bless them with good governments, peace and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine.