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CLARENCE PAGE: Yes, we do have a lot to be thankful for: each other

CLARENCE PAGE: Yes, we do have a lot to be thankful for: each other

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Trying to find something to be thankful for in 2020? Tough task.

Facing it reminds me of the old joke that President Ronald Reagan loved to tell about a very optimistic little boy and a pile of horse manure.

Thrilled by the pile of poop, the little boy happily jumped onto it and started digging, saying, “There must be a pony in here somewhere.”

That’s how I feel in assessing this year of pandemic, racial unrest, school closings, darkened theaters, shuttered restaurants, a shaky economy and a bitter presidential race that seemed like it never was going to end. (Is it over yet?)

Little wonder that the surprisingly scraggly appearance of this year’s Christmas tree in New York’s Rockefeller Center touched off headlines about its sad appearance, making the perfect metaphor for this sad year.

Tut, tut, responded the Rockefeller Center management, just give gravity a chance to help the unwrapped 75-foot evergreen’s branches settle into place after its 200-mile trip from upstate New York.

Right. That’s what our neighborhood tree salesman tells me when I’m shopping picked-over evergreens at the last minute in the local church parking lot.

But before that could happen, workers found a happy little surprise in the tree’s branches. It was not a pony. It was an owl.

A Northern saw-whet owl, nicknamed Rockefeller, was found in the Christmas tree chosen for Rockefeller Center's 2020 display in New York.

Identified at a rehab center as a saw-whet owl, the smallest of its kind in the Northeast, the owl may have hitched a ride all the way from upstate New York. As a New York Daily News headline exclaimed, “What a hoot!”

Whether it was a city owl or country owl, I feel grateful to the little owl and its rescuers, who appropriately named it “Rockefeller,” for bringing an upbeat twist to the narrative of the sad Christmas tree. Maybe there’s hope for 2020 too.

After all, gratitude is what Thanksgiving is about. It’s in the name: Giving thanks.

Although the details of the first Thanksgiving are as much in dispute as any other historic landmarks from B.T. – before Twitter – we can be assured that Pilgrims and Native Americans celebrated their thanks for a good harvest.

Thanksgiving became official in this country with a proclamation from President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, aimed at lifting national spirits amid the brutalities of the Civil War.

“Population has steadily increased notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield,” Lincoln proclaimed, “and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.”

Although he did not mention the Emancipation Proclamation by name, his expectations of a “large increase of freedom” should resonate with those of us who are descendants of slavery.

Lincoln was later assassinated, and racial unrest continues today. But his words should remind us of how, despite the imperfections of this nation, its laws provide the mechanisms for its improvement if we keep working at it.

That calls for optimism. As grim as history and current events may turn, Thanksgiving reminds us of the value of counting our blessings – and, the more I think about it, the more blessings I think we Americans have to count.

I feel blessed, for example, in these pandemic and politically polarized times by the people who refuse to give up.

I feel blessed by the “essential workers,” which the Department of Homeland Security defines as “a range of operations and services that are typically essential to continue critical infrastructure operations.” That includes the hospital, health care, nursing home, agricultural, transportation, custodial and many other service workers who keep our economy going and our people healthy, often at great personal risks.

I give thanks for families, especially my own. Inability to get together around the same Thanksgiving table this year – except maybe by the modern blessing of Zoom or Skype and good Wi-Fi connections – makes me even more appreciative of the great times we had around the table, remembering the days when my late mother’s buttery dinner rolls were a sacrament and gravy was its own food group.

“On the Fourth of July, we celebrate our independence,” said orator and populist politician William Jennings Bryan in 1903. “On Thanksgiving Day we acknowledge our dependence.”

Indeed, it’s a moment for us relentlessly individualistic Americans to appreciate how much we gain from each other, especially if nobody hogs the dinner rolls.

Email Clarence Page at

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