Weekly Column

Nov 18 2019

A Day of Thanks

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When Abraham Lincoln called for a national day of thanksgiving in 1863, he believed that a special time for our nation to come together and celebrate our blessings would have a “deep moral influence” on America’s collective character. 

In his proclamation, he wrote: “The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.” It was an extraordinary way to describe a year filled with tremendous suffering and loss. 

But Lincoln had a profound understanding of how a dose of hope can change the country. He knew that the suffering they were experiencing would eventually come to an end. Since its founding, America has always been ingrained with a passion for renewal. It’s a factor that unites and sustains us still today.

We credit President Lincoln’s proclamation on that November day in 1863, as the beginning of one of our nation’s oldest traditions: Thanksgiving Day.

This year has been tough for Nebraska communities. Central and eastern portions of our state were ravaged by record-setting floods, while the western regions endured extreme blizzard conditions. Generations of farmland washed away, bridges collapsed, entire towns flooded, and businesses closed for an indefinite period of time.

However, when Nebraskans unite with family and friends this Thanksgiving, I think it will bring a refreshed sense of gratitude.

I know this because I have witnessed this my whole life – it’s what makes Nebraska the greatest state in the nation. Through disaster and tragedy Nebraskans respond with kindness, bravery, and generosity. Adversity reveals our character, grit, and determination.

Somehow, crisis gives us clarity on our true values – and it was on full display this year.

I read a story in the Fremont Tribune of Amanda Westergaard, who has been collecting Christmas decorations to distribute to flood survivors.

When Amanda was shopping at the Hooper American Legion Auxiliary’s “Christmas Revisited” sale for decorations to give her mother and sister, who lost everything in the flood, the idea came to her. Auxiliary members called her after the sale to see if she would be willing to distribute the remaining decorations to flood victims. She gladly accepted and quickly spread the word of her new project.

Suddenly, Amanda began to receive dozens of phone calls from Nebraskans who wanted to chip-in, resulting in truckloads of donations. She knows these decorations aren’t the most needed items for flood victims but hopes it is one way of reminding people that they are not forgotten. 

I was particularly reminded of Nebraska’s character when I read the inspiring story of Rick Meints, a farmer in Cortland.

He tragically passed away the day after he received back surgery. In the midst of heartbreak, the family was posed with another obstacle with the upcoming harvest season approaching. 

Yet, during the middle of harvest season, as many as 40 farmers in the Cortland area paused in their own work and helped finish Rick’s final harvest. The Lincoln-Journal Star reports Teresa, Rick’s wife, wiped away tears as she witnessed the incredible support of her friends in the months that followed his death.

Rick’s lifelong friend summed up our Nebraska spirit best by telling the reporter: “It’s not what you’re dealt, it’s how you handle it.”

Nebraska was dealt a difficult hand in 2019. But this year, we’ve also witnessed the true character of our people.

It’s just another example of who we are and what we hold dear. Through crisis and challenging times, there Nebraskans will be – lending hands of support and genuine care no matter the circumstances. And it’s another reminder that our communities are worth the investment, the sweat and tears, and the rebuilding. 

Words cannot express my thankfulness for the character and kind hearts of Nebraskans. This Thanksgiving, I am especially grateful and filled with pride for the opportunity to work for you in the United States Senate. 

From my family to yours: Happy Thanksgiving. May God continue to bless our great state and nation.