The first person to use this proverb was Thomas Fuller, an English theologian, in the year 1650 and the idea behind this is related to the literal meaning of dawn. Dawn begins when the first light begins to show over the horizon from the sunrise. Therefore, there is the least light before dawn begins, because there while there is no sunlight at that point, it is also the longest point since last seeing light.
Well, while having my first cup of coffee this morning, an article came onto the morning news about a turkey farm near by that was having an unusual problem this year. Apparently, their number one product from prior years, their biggest, prize turkeys are just not selling. They couldn’t give them away. Apparently, because of the COVID-19 threat and the current rates of transmission, most people just weren’t gathering in the large numbers they had in prior years. I know we too have altered our usual order from our loyal and faithful neighborhood deli from a 12-14-pound bird to a boneless breast that we’ll be smoking this Thanksgiving Day. It will of course be delicious, but it will certainly be different.
Funny how something as simple as a brief TV news package about a local turkey farm can illustrate the strange times in which we find ourselves. As you likely did last year, probably on New Year’s Eve, I spoke of saying goodbye to what I thought was a rather rough and unkind year to welcome the hope and promise of a new year. With 2019 behind us, 2020 did start off with great promise and enthusiasm. Yet even as we were saying goodbye to 2019, a dark shadow was looming on the horizon as news of a strange new virus from far away was spreading its mantle and exacting its cost on a growing number of lives. Images of people donning masks and grieving lost ones began to appear in increasing numbers and the murmur that had been mostly background noise grew as we huddled through a fairly mild winter, still believing we were far from this growing menace.
Then, in Spring, the distant, but growing noise of overseas became a clamor as this thing hitched a ride on a plane, or boat, and found its way to us. Yes, it was here and unbeknownst to us, our world was about to change in every way we thought it could not, would not ever, here. Right? I mean, this is America! This is “rugged individualist,” and that still vibrant “Don’t Tread On Me” attitude that made us the single greatest force for good in the world, right? Well, maybe not…
The very thing that makes America exceptional was about to be flipped on its head. The sole global superpower – the only country in history to dominate both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans – our faith in personal freedom and what we refer to as the “American Dream” of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, was coming face to face with an existential crisis, invisible to the naked eye. Yes, a thing so tiny as to be only visible under the finest microscopes was about to act on us in ways that would heighten our fears, play on our prejudices, harden our divisions and draw lines where none had been before. Oh…and let’s not forget… having just passed the 100-year anniversary of the 1918 pandemic and the 10-year anniversary of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, we were suddenly looking square into the face of what would prove to be the most virulent, deadly medical emergency in over a century.
By March, COVID-19 completely and entirely upended daily life in the United States. This mysterious SARS-CoV-2, the virus spreading the disease, swept across the country as we began adjusting to strict guidelines, cancelled activities and closures, and mandates to stay home. Since that time, this thing has ebbed and flowed, at times giving false hopes that it would recede, only to come back with even greater ferocity and spread itself like the plague that it is across our nation. And now, it has found its way into every corner, crack, and crevice of American life. It divides families along physical, emotional and political lines such as have not been seen since the American Civil War, pitting brother against brother, sister against sister, family against family, urban against rural, city against country, heaping coals on the very fire that fuels a polarization entirely unprecedented in American history.
So, that is where we find ourselves now. We’re over a quarter-million souls who will not be joining us at our Thanksgiving Day tables this year. Within days, we will eclipse the total number of souls who gave their “last full measure of devotion” during World War II. For all too many, there will be no family gathered for the annual Thanksgiving Day feast. There will be no Christmas morning, bustling with loved ones for many, even most of us. We continue to fight political battles that distract and divide us when we should be focused like a laser on the business of getting our arms around this scourge. Yes, 2020 will be the year of the asterix. Football, baseball, basketball, soccer, school, church, marriage, birth, death and every element of life is forever marked with an asterix signifying how every aspect of American life was “exceptional,” in the most literal meaning of the word, this year…
But, as many of you know who may be familiar with my story-telling style, my stories most often paint the darkness before bringing the light. And after what you just read, you may ask, what light? And if you are still reading this at this point, I can well understand that you, as most of us, may feel more than a bit overwhelmed by all of this… And yet, I promise you, there is light. Yes, there is great light and as we approach the coming Winter Solstice, we stand, both metaphorically and literally, at the point when the shortest day of the year is proceeded by the longest, darkest night of the year, only to introduce the very day when the light begins its long awaited return.
As I write this, we have not one, but two promising vaccines that will be in circulation by the end of this year and find their way to a majority of us by Spring. In January, we welcome new leadership into the sacred halls of our nation’s capital and the most working-family friendly president in decades. In every state, city, and neighborhood, across the land, a sincere and promising conversation about our nation’s original sin – systemic racism – has begun. We have the opportunity to address the existential threat to our environment while creating a wealth of good, solid, well-paying jobs that will usher in a new age of prosperity for the middle class, and most importantly middle-America where hope has been all but lost for so long, and the voiceless may find their voice again.
Yes, we have a way to go, make no mistake. And unfortunately, more still will not make the next leg of this journey back with us. But, make no mistake, we are coming back. Facts will once more be facts and truth will be truth again. While fear will never leave us, hope will once again reign. Science will prevail over myth and misinformation. And we will rebuild the shining city on the hill on the same solid, unshakeable foundation once again. “We the People” will decide our fate once more and we will get there by the grit and determination, the sweat and blood of American exceptionalism. But let us not confuse exceptionalism with the easy, self-flattering nationalism that has recently reared it so ugly face. America’s capacity for greatness is rooted in its capacity for goodness. It is the force behind what makes America great. We only needed a bit of reminding.
Finally, let’s remember what Mary G. Harris Jones, also known as Mother Jones, said: “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.” Let’s continue being prudent. Let’s continue to watch out for one another and do the fundamental things required to ride out the last few months of this great national nightmare. But know that there is an end to this dark tunnel, and a great light awaits there. But most importantly, we will get there together! Give thanks for your smaller turkey, then Zoom those you love! Gather in smaller groups now so we can all gather in great numbers to celebrate the tremendous victory of not just surviving 2020, but thriving on the promise, the pledge, the opportunity of 2021 and beyond. Happy Thanksgiving dear Sisters, Brothers, Community partners and friends. Indeed we have plenty to be thankful for.
Unity and Solidarity forever!