One of the things we have much to be grateful for in this country is that our wars have not been fought on our own soil. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris, which killed over a hundred people this month, Europe declared war. But although the Paris attacks were certainly horrific and tragic, they are fortunately rare in Europe and the U.S.—so rare, in fact, that when they happen, they make global headlines. But there are some countries, such as Syria, that have experienced the equivalent (in terms of civilian casualties) of one Paris attack per week for the past several years. Most of those innocents killed by the hands of these same terrorists in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and Mali die unheralded deaths.
To even the most hardened of Americans, violence and destruction on such a scale is simply inconceivable. As Americans, we have become accustomed to being able to retreat from a world filled with peril to a safe place. We can choose to take a day off from the hostilities if we choose. When we step back and consider all that has happened in the Middle East over the past year alone, with all of the chaos and death and destruction caused by radical Islamic extremists, we can’t help but feel gratitude for the fact that we live in a country that is at once tolerant of all religions and intolerant of terrorist violence.
We will sit down this year with our families to share festivities that incorporate all the ancient and modern traditions that define our American society. There will be dishes that represent every country in the world, and over 50 million turkeys will be consumed on Thanksgiving alone. The abundance that makes this national feast possible is made possible by the peace and stability that we have enjoyed for so long. It is truly a blessing to call America home.
While we are praying over our Thanksgiving feast, we should also include a prayer for peace in the Middle East. We pray that the people of Iraq and Syria can overcome their differences and rid themselves of the evil scourge of Islamic extremism. We pray that peace can once again reign in that land of sacred heritage.
Thanksgiving is a day in which we express our national gratitude for the abundant gifts we have been given. In a sense it is also the closest thing we have in America to a national day of prayer. We are grateful for what we have and for all the blessings we have in life and all those yet to come. Giving thanks for a world as we would like to be is the first step towards faith, and as a people of faith, we also wish unto others as we would want for ourselves.
Yet as the Buddhist spiritual leader the Dalai Lama recently said in response to the Paris attacks, “We cannot solve this problem only through prayers … humans have created this problem, and now we are asking God to solve it. It is illogical. God would say, solve it yourself because you created it in the first place.” Of course practical steps will have to be taken to stop the madness going on in the Middle East and start the healing process, but what we can do in the meantime is to show the world our strength, our resolve and our compassion.
While it is unfortunate that it took a war to bring our societies closer together, the people of Syria and Iraq are now our friends. In fact, for this problem to be resolved and for America to remain a safe place, we will all eventually have to be closer allies. As we carve into those turkeys and sample all of the relishes and desserts and dishes prepared with love, it would be a great time to think about the Syrian, Iraqi or Yazidi child orphaned by war and cast out of the country she calls home. How would you feel if it were your friend who was orphaned and cast out? What would you do about it?
While many of us are comfortably ensconced among food, family and friends, we should give a thought to those not so fortunate, and it should be a cause for reflection on what makes America great. What is it about our nation that has created a society that is peaceful, and tolerant and welcoming?
America’s greatest bounty—even greater than all of the material success and technological achievements, even more than the vast territory that spans between the coasts—is the peace we enjoy here on U.S. soil. The sense of security one feels when one closes one’s door, the expectation that when one goes out to work in the morning there will be a home to return to—this cannot be overstated. There are many, many people who would literally give their lives for a little of what we sometimes take for granted.