Today is a gray, gloomy day in northern California and even though we need the rain, it is hard to welcome the damp and chill. Last year at this time, there was plenty of trouble in the world, but the mood was hopeful. This year, it appears to many of us, that the country has taken a wrong turn from which it may never recover.
In high schools, students are expressing their fear by harassing fellow students; in the streets, people are demonstrating against the government with a fury that hasn’t been seen in fifty years; hate groups are springing to life again apparently feeling they have won the right to turn back the clock and resume their old habits of tormenting anyone they disagree with.
In times like this, it is easy to agree with Matthew Arnold’s bitter assessment of the state of the world.
the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
But the holiday is upon us and we will be expected to produce the usual holiday dinner along with good cheer. There is always much to be thankful for—friends and family; a chance to live and work in a (mostly) peaceful country free of war. And even in the wider world, many people still act with generosity. On Thursday, thousands of volunteers will serve Thanksgiving dinners to people who cannot buy their own. Doctors and nurses and all the others who help the sick and dying will continue to work during the holiday and make life more endurable. People will scrub the cruel graffiti off walls and sidewalks and will make friends with the targets of scorn.
Somehow human nature has survived the assault of other periods of unrest and attack. We will survive this one too. The spirit of hatred and exclusion has threatened the country many times before. Native Americans were harried and driven from the lands they had nurtured; slaves were brought from their own countries and forced to work in ours; people of Japanese ancestry were imprisoned for no reason except baseless fear during World War II. But somehow the tide turns and evil has been recognized for what it is. Slowly and imperfectly Americans have recognized their mistakes and tried to undo them. Wrong choices and cruel actions are never completely erased. They have to be fought by every generation and by every individual. But people are strong.
The most important thing to be thankful for is that we won’t be conquered by new mistakes. Bad choices may be made but they can be reversed. Remember the old W. E. Henley poem we came across in school? No defeat has to be permanent. People are strong and will resist. We shall overcome!
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.