Thanksgiving comes poignantly. The all-American holiday that traditionally brings the gathering together of families will be saddened in many a hearth this year by thoughts of loved ones far away, facing danger in service to their country.
How much the world has changed since Thanksgiving, 1989! President Bush was at snow-covered Camp David, reveling in news stories reporting how crowds in Prague were marching for democracy, led by a playwright and former political prisoner, Vaclav Havel, who was destined to become president of Czechoslovakia. "Around the world," Mr. Bush proclaimed in a holiday message, "new pilgrims are on a voyage to freedom."
This year, the president is in Saudi Arabia, sharing turkey and all the fixings with the troops. Many of the men and women with whom he dines have their very lives at stake in his decisions. His visit may be symbolic of the defense of freedom. But it is a far cry from the celebration of the end of the Cold War that was gaining so much momentum one year ago and has just been made official at the 34-nation Paris summit.
Privation has long been mixed with plenty in observances of Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims who first gathered on the forbidding shores of the New World were welcoming harvests that averted starvation. Their feast, for what it was, anticipated long winter days and nights, a time of cold weather and short rations.
Yet out of their experiences, despite bursts of narrow-minded intolerance, grew the most diverse and liberal society the world has known, a society whose idea was so vital in the triumph of freedom over tyranny in Communist-ruled Central and Eastern Europe.
Yet liberty never comes cheap. It never comes easy. It never is so pervasive and so impervious that this planet is not a scattered scene of sorrow, bloodshed and oppression. Hardly had Americans the opportunity to savor the peace their long perseverance in Europe had wrought when war burst out on an August day in the Persian Gulf.
Few Americans paid much attention to Iraq's threats against Kuwait. Then, suddenly, it was America's task to stop still another dictator. Suddenly Americans on active service were on ships and planes heading for lands they knew only as places on the map. Suddenly, wives and husbands, children and parents, found themselves facing a holiday season without someone precious.
So this is a Thanksgiving not of joy and euphoria, in the sense it was a year ago. It is a time of giving thanks for the bonds of family and love of country that conquer distance and the pain of parting. It is a time for prayer.