Thanksgiving Day, a day of elated celebration for most of my life, this year slumped in on itself. Historically, I could, and would, give thanks for my health, employment, family, friends, interesting studies, a comfortable home, my trusty dog, healthful food, fresh air, wide open spaces, and densely foliaged parks. Most and best of all, I gave thanks for the future: possibility and opportunity.
This year, though, the future did not fill me with sunny optimism. But, it did not fill me with wintery dread, either. This year, I found myself looking forward with an arms-folded-across-my-chest, squinty-eyed wariness: “Let’s just see how this thing shakes out, shall we?”
Reserved wariness does not sit well with me precisely because it is un-American. I’m sure there are some hold-back, do nothing Americans, but I do not know any. The Americans I know and love get involved. They engage. They push, retreat, then go sideways, up, over, around, under, and through. They throw, toss, catch, hug, release, jump, crawl, walk, sprint, inch, and lunge. They tweet, call, message, text, sing, type, print, hunt & peck, chicken scratch, and say hello. They show up.
And this is why I give thanks for Benjamin Franklin. Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston under one governmental regime and died in Philadelphia under another. The youngest son (and number 11 of 13 children), he was a polymath and a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat.
I finished The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin the day before Thanksgiving and grew to love this engaging and engaged, boots-in-the-mud American. Since he ran away from home – his dad indentured him in servitude to one of his older brothers – he did not have a last name to recommend him, nor did he have any money. He knew he lacked education, so he set about self-cultivation: he read and studied books, he taught himself three additional languages, he worked. Almost as an aside, Benjamin comments on his contributions to building the local hospital, an orphanage (in Georgia of all places), and the library.
In short, Benjamin Franklin showed up.
I give thanks for Benjamin Franklin showing up, for living as a humorous, flawed, deliberate model for Americans three centuries hence. Even as I write this piece, my young student practices her investigative journalism. She is interested, engaged, participating.
Thank you, Ben, for reminding me… No, there will be no standing on the sidelines with my arms folded.