That wonderful writer and theologian, Chuck Swindoll, remembers a Thanksgiving in 1944 when he had just turned ten and was in the fifth grade at Southmayd Elementary School in East Houston. He recalls:
Draped high across the front of our classroom was a huge American flag with its 48 stars and 13 stripes. We began that Wednesday as we did every other day in school, standing erect beside our desks, repeating the Pledge of Allegiance and then bowing our heads as our teacher led us in prayer. Hanging just below the flag was a large picture of our 32nd president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. She always remembered to pray for him–and our “soldier boys”; who were serving their country in dark, dreary, and dangerous places a half a world away from my fifth-grade class.
My teacher had lost her husband on the blood-washed shores of Normandy the previous June. After we had saluted the flag, a hush fell across the room as we bowed our heads together. No one moved. As she began to pray and give thanks, her voice broke and she started to weep. I did too. So did Richard Webb, my best buddy. And Wanda Ragland. Even Charles White and Warren Cook, two tough kids who later played high school football when we were all Milby Buffaloes, wiped back their tears. No one moved as she stumbled and sobbed her way through her prayer, which was filled with some of the most moving expressions of gratitude and praise that I have ever heard emerge from a soul plunged in personal grief and pain.
In that epochal moment, time stood still. And I believe it was then–right then–that I fell in love with Thanksgiving. It became, for me, far more than just another holiday; it took on a significance that bordered the sacred.
Lost in sympathy and a 10-year-old-boy’s pity for his teacher, I walked home much slower that autumn afternoon. Although only a child, I entertained deep and profound feelings of gratitude for my country, kept free by the bravery and blood of men and women only a few years older than I, most of them fresh out of high school. On that cool afternoon I felt a renewed surge of thankfulness for my mom and dad, my older brother and sister . . . my maternal grandparents . . . my friends . . . for my school . . . my neighborhood . . . my church.
Our message to you at this special time of year is two-fold.
First, we hope – regardless of the circumstances in life where you may find yourself this year – that you can pause and catch some of the gratitude spirit that Swindoll recalls from almost seventy years ago.
And secondly, we send our own sense of gratitude to all of you who make such a difference for kids in Kentucky. Front line social workers and school folks. Elected and government officials with a bearing towards children and families and citizen advocates. Grandparents raising their kin and child care professionals making a difference for the youngest amongst us. Child welfare leaders waging justice and faith community leaders taking their faith into the realm of public policy. Health professionals who make the extra effort and media representatives who dare to dig deep on behalf of children. Law enforcement officials looking for ways to give that kid a hand up and business leaders who put families before profit margins.
Yep. We love Thanksgiving because of food and family and football. But we also love it as an intentional moment to give thanks – and part of our thanks from KYA is to each of you who make a difference in the lives of our Commonwealth’s children.