T. S. Eliot wrote in The Waste Land that, "April is the cruelest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain." Eliot sold November short.
Gray and cold, the next-to-last month of the calendar year can be depressing even in the best of times. And while these are not the worst of times, they are surely not the best.
Perhaps it was partially to counter this end of year ennui that in 1789 the Congress requested, and President George Washington proclaimed, a day of thanksgiving. As with most things that issued from the pen of our first president, his Thanksgiving Proclamation merits modern review.
The Father of Our Country first acknowledged that "it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor."
He next noted that Congress had asked him "to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."
Washington therefore designated Thursday, November 26, 1789, "to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be." He continued by urging Americans to "unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks" for caring for them before nationhood, for victory in the Revolutionary War, and for "the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have enjoyed since."
The new national constitution was among the blessings for which Washington gave thanks, along with "the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed." But this great and wise leader also beseeched God "to pardon our national and other transgressions."
In words appropriate now, Washington went on to pray that the Lord "render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed."
He concluded by asking divine assistance in promoting "the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science" among all nations, including our own. And he pled for a grant "unto all mankind" of "such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best."
One hundred and fifty years ago, not long before he delivered the Gettysburg Address, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Proclamation of Thanksgiving that began the national holiday we have celebrated since. He did so in part because even that bloody year had been "filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies."
Those blessings and so many others, said Lincoln, "are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God."
After noting the toll that the Civil War had exacted, he reflected that "no human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things." The good things were "the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy."
So Lincoln proclaimed "a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens." He commended those who suffered to "His tender care," and implored the "Almighty Hand" to "heal the wounds of the nation" and "restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union."
In his Thanksgiving proclamation last year, President Obama acknowledged gratitude for the "God-given bounty that enriches our lives," noted that President Washington had "prayed to our Creator for peace, union, and plenty," and encouraged Americans to be "mindful of the grace bestowed upon us by God."
The national mood now resembles a bleak late November day. Yet sincere prayers to God, of penitence and thanksgiving, are as appropriate as ever. Indeed, they are precisely what we need.
This done, let us heed the call of President Kennedy, whose death fifty years ago we recently observed, to "go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own."
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.