(Note: This is adapted from a Thanksgiving Day editorial I wrote many years ago at the Detroit Free Press and later updated in my San Jose Mercury News column.)
Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, invites us to pause and remember our blessings. It’s also an annual reminder that, as a friend once reminded me, the world needs more pilgrims and fewer turkeys.
The pilgrims I admire take risks. They embark on journeys to new, unfamiliar, and often unfriendly places, with vision transcending fear. But that isn’t all. Their staying power and moral convictions take them far beyond the self-obsessed hunger for wealth and power–and willingness to poison our public discourse–that infects our nation at the highest levels and threatens to bring down the republic.
Because people are complicated, we can be turkeys one moment and pilgrims the next. History tells us that America’s colonial pilgrims weren’t uniformly admirable (to put it mildly) in their deeds or motives. And human nature hasn’t changed.
So as the more fortunate among us give thanks for our bounty this week — as Thanksgiving Day’s culinary surplus gives way to the holiday season’s commercial excess — let’s honor our own good fortune by reminding ourselves of the best in others.
I revere my small town’s teachers and librarians, who spread knowledge through the community. They believe in the power of words, of learning, of discovery. They are pilgrims.
I am humbled by the people who work for relatively low pay, and sometimes at great personal risk, to bring the truth to their communities via a craft–journalism–that we have never needed more. They, too, are pilgrims.
I admire the activists who see a better America, and work every day to create it, than the cruel nation so many of our leaders have fostered over the years. They are guiding us on a national pilgrimage toward real justice.
A friend who died several decades ago built a successful business and then went into public service. Early in his political career he pretty much insisted that if you were poor it was your own fault, period. Holding power helped him understand otherwise. A conservative Republican–back before “conservative” had been twisted into its current status of right-wing extremist–he never stopped trusting that the free market would erase poverty in the long term. But he realized that the rest of us, as volunteers and through our government, had to help in the meantime. He was a pilgrim.
In the Bay Area, where I live, the behavior of some famous technology people might lead you to believe that the tech world has vastly more turkeys than pilgrims. No question, the field has attracted more than its share of both — reflecting its intense, creative style. Silicon Valley does everything in excess, so why not this? But our tech companies’ worst behavior is now intertwined with our national turmoil, and their leaders have barely begun to recognize their culpability. Some of them are in desperate need of pilgrimages of their own.
At times I fear that America, awash in anger, pettiness, greed, smugness, and deceit, has all but lost its sense of exploration, wonder, and justice. But I always come back to the pilgrims who refuse to accept the way things are, who reject pure grasping and complacence, and who are leading us to better places.
My table will overflow with bounty this Thursday. I’m grateful beyond words for my life of relative comfort, for my opportunity to constantly explore and learn.
I hope to sustain this pilgrimage for life, for justice. And as America celebrates Thanksgiving Day, 2018, I wish the same for you.