Thanksgiving in the Two Americas

In our two Americas, this holiday season will be the best of times for some and the worst of times for others, and it is a moment to give thanks not for what we have, but to those who live their lives in the true spirit of America.

Last year at this time there was news of soaring bonuses on Wall Street, including some very lavish rewards for those most responsible for the mortgage financing crisis. We will soon read of lavish bonuses again, and of executives at some offending companies reaping hundreds of millions of dollars of personal wealth through legal insider stock sales as their reward for the American tragedy they helped cause.

In one America this Thanksgiving oil prices drive to $100 a barrel, gas prices impose pain on average Americans, and home heating oil rises to punishing heights while some reap record profits from the dictatorship of oil. In the other America there is much work for those who feed the hungry, clothe the needy and heal the hurting among us.

Meanwhile, the number of foreclosures rises through the roof. Many good Americans will spend this Thanksgiving losing their homes, or nervously praying the court order does not arrive while their frail holiday tree hosts modest gifts given with great love.

The sales of luxury presents will be solid at the great shops that cater to the high incomes of one America, while workers in the other America will be searching for bargains at the Wal-Marts, trying to afford their holiday presents sandwiched between skyrocketing gas prices and rising food costs.

It will be a banner season for the boards of directors of the great oil giants, the Halliburtons and those to whom war has been good while homelessness rises among veterans and many disabled vets continue to endure punishment administered by our government. There will be news of husbands and wives of heroes in Iraq being harassed by debt collectors and repossessors.

The news will feature segments about the holiday catalogues of wealth and their exotic gifts that virtually no American can afford, while we will read of homeless Americans freezing to death during the next cold spell and hungry mothers giving their hungry children their only loaf of bread for their holiday dinner.

We will debate immigration during this holiday season, and Lord knows changes are needed, but one voice has been silenced in our debate during this season. It is the voice of that Lady who lifts the torch in New York harbor, who tries to speak to us over the voices of fear, hysteria and self-interest.

Let's have a round of applause for Lady Liberty during this holiday season. She reminds us of who we are, where we came from, and why we are here.

Let's lift a cup for the notion that we are blessed to live in a land that says, Give us your tired and and your poor. Let's toast the idea that "here on earth God's work must truly be our own."

Let's pay a tribute in front of the tree or the menorah to those who serve in the homeless shelters, the Marines who find Toys for Tots, the synagogues and churches and mosques that extend their hand to those in need, the food banks, the patriots who drive the meals on wheels and the kids who teach us, by finding phone cards so loving families can call troops during their hours of combat.

Ronald Reagan famously called America "a city on a hill," but Reagan was not the first president to use that phrase. John Kennedy spoke those words in his farewell address at the statehouse in Massachusetts 11 days before assuming the presidency when he pledged to bring to Washington the four virtues of courage, judgment, integrity and dedication.

John Kennedy was quoting John Winthrop addressing the Puritans in colonial New England in 1630 in his sermon "A Model of Christian Charity" in which he implored the early Americans to always remember the spirit of the true America.

Let's give thanks to Winthrop's great idea of the city on a hill, to the Lady in the Harbor, to the notion that there should only be one America, and that America stands as a beacon for the tired and the poor, for the unpopular and the persecuted, for the hungry and the hopeless and those who honor our America by lifting all Americans, from those who serve to those in need.

In this spirit, a Happy Thanksgiving to all.