FOR AS LONG as presidents have been proclaiming a national day of thanks, editorial writers have been dutifully opining on the many reasons this country has to count its blessings. After all, that task is much easier here than for people in some parts of the world.
Sure, we have our problems, from the seemingly steady erosion of civility in public and private life to the sad dramas evident in hungry faces on city streets. But Americans are optimistic people. Despite our problems, we persist in believing that things can improve, that with persistence, patience and hard work, we can make this world a better place.
Yet however innate, that optimism sometimes gets smothered by the cares of an imperfect world. This holiday, which all Americans share, can seem a tired ritual, more valuable for offering a respite from the daily rat race than for its spiritual
But the genius of Thanksgiving is that simply going through the motions of expressing gratitude can produce unexpected rewards. Thirty-five years ago, Edgar Jones, one of The Sun's most distinguished editorial writers, learned of one such incident, which occurred in a classroom somewhere in this city. It is a reminder that, whatever our role in life, we can always make a difference.
Here, reprinted from The Sun of Nov. 21, 1960, is a story for the ages:
MRS. KLEIN was low in spirit as she told her first-graders, as in so many years past, to draw a picture of something for which they are thankful. She thought once again of how little to be thankful for these particular children, the mixed offerings of a progressively deteriorating neighborhood, actually had. She wondered what she herself in her lonely state would have drawn, the assignment were hers.
From her long experience as a teacher Mrs. Klein knew that when it came time to show the papers, most of the class would have drawn pictures of turkeys or of bountifully laden Thanksgiving tables. That was what the majority believed was expected of them. She also knew with certainty that Janey would draw a picture labeled "Mother," because Janey's mother would have expected it of her. As for Robert, he would draw a battleship because he was always drawing battleships (although his explanation would be as plausible as ever: battleships protect us and so they are something to be thankful for).
What took Mrs. Klein aback was Douglas's picture. Douglas she looked upon as her true child of misery, so scrubby and forlorn, and so likely to be found close in her shadow as they went outside for recess. Douglas's drawing was simply this:
A hand obviously, but whose hand? The class had its own ideas, seemingly captivated by the abstract and surprising image. "I think, Teacher, that it must be the hand of God that brings us food," said one.
"A farmer," said another, "because they grow the turkeys."
"It looks more like a policeman, and they protect us."
"So do the battleship men." (This from Robert.)
"No, not a policeman; the crossing guard lady who helps us across the street."
"Mothers help children most of all." (Jane, of course.)
"It's Uncle Sam, Mrs. Klein. I remember a hand in the paper like that once, taking some children into a school."
"I think," said Lavinia, who was always so serious and final, "that it is supposed to be all the hands that help us, only Douglas could only draw one of them."
Mrs. Klein had almost forgotten Douglas in her pleasure at finding the class so responsive. He looked embarrassed now, and unwilling to explain to the class. When she had the others at work on their numbering, she bent over his desk, seeing again the raveled sweater against the dirty neck, and asked whose hand it was. Douglas barely mumbled, "It's yours, Teacher."
Back at her desk Mrs. Klein thought of how she must have taken Douglas by the hand from time to time. She often did that with the children, and Douglas was usually standing silently by. But that it should have meant so much. Perhaps, she reflected, this was her Thanksgiving, and everybody's Thanksgiving. Not the material things given unto us, but the chance in whatever small way to give something to others.