Jewish World Review Nov. 27, 2003 / 2 Kislev 5764

Paul Greenberg

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Suddenly a pause: Thanksgiving, 2003 | Like life itself, today's holiday is assuringly familiar and never the same. In many ways this is the most expected of American holidays; they say it inspires more travel plans than any other. Yet it still seems to come unexpectedly - in the middle of the week.

Thanksgiving always has the feeling of a sudden lull, an abrupt cessation, a surprise despite its having been there on the calendar all along. In that way, it is like grace itself; we count on it, know it, invoke it, and yet there is something miraculous in its arrival.

So let us give thanks:

FOR THOSE who serve and protect us - around the world. This will inevitably be the first Thanksgiving away from home for some young soldier, sailor, airman or Marine. For those far away, the turkey will have an extra flavor, the flavor of home.

FOR THE FLAG. In peacetime, it may take the sight of Old Glory in a foreign land to make the heart beat faster, and remind us of all we have, and who we are, and the people we yet hope to be - a shining light, a city upon a hill.

When this long cruel war burst upon us one unsuspecting September day, the flags came out like lights across a galaxy of fear as the doubt and confusion, the anger and resolve, spread. It was the one thing we could all do: Raise the flag. It was the one clean, wordless gesture we could make without reservation or explanation. It was the one symbol that said more than we could say ourselves.

The sight of those flags great and small cheered. They sprang up in front of homes and were taped to cars and flew atop the rubble at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. One was planted in that lonely field somewhere in Pennsylvania to honor those Americans who first had the chance to fight back against this evil - and did.

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Now, as this war against that shadowy terror enters its third year, that flag still waves proud, and in locales like Kabul and Baghdad. The war that began on these shores has been taken to the haunts of the enemy, to places he thought were beyond our reach. Terror has been given no sanctuary, not this time.

There will be empty places at the table this Thanksgiving, and there is no softening the sorrow we feel. But painful as each loss is, Americans press ahead, learning from each setback, adapting, striking back, refusing to be daunted. Let us be thankful for that.

FOR ALL those who make the holiday possible for the rest of us: For the airline pilots and stewardesses, whom we all see better now. For the exhausted young intern who'll get his turkey off the steam table in the hospital cafeteria. For tired waitresses and busy phone operators, for harried nurses and emergency crews. For the trucker who'll order pumpkin pie in the only recognition of the holiday his schedule will allow.

FOR THE HOURS leading up to Thanksgiving. For the festive anticipation as folks come home for the holiday. You can almost hear the sweetest two words in the language in the rustle of every crowd at an airport or bus station or railroad depot: Welcome Home!

FOR THE SOUND of gravel in the drive of many a country place as the old folks await the sound of the familiar car disgorging familiar faces. And maybe some new ones. For the sound of doors opening and children shouting and coats tossed on the furniture and the feel of warm hugs.

FOR THE BUSTLE before the guests arrive, the hubbub of greetings when they do, for the same stories improved on every year, and for the arguments over just exactly when something in the family history happened and why. For the ways in which all families are alike and all families are different.

FOR AMERICAN NAMES. ("I have fallen in love with American names/The sharp names that never get fat,/The snakeskin titles of mining claims,/The plumed war-bonnet of Medicine Hat/Tucson and Deadwood and Lost Mule Flat." - Stephen Vincent Benet.)

FOR BASEBALL and jazz and the Constitution and American intricacies of every kind that are nevertheless simple, and so endure. For the great, sweeping, artful, indivisible American simplicities - like Emily Dickinson's poems and Joe DiMaggio at bat.

I'm thankful FOR YOU, Gentle Reader, for whom I write these words, for your interest and tolerance, and for the Providence that has preserved us, sustained us and let us reach this day together

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Today's column is based on an essay in his book "Entirely Personal." (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.) Send your comments by clicking here.

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