This season, from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, is my favorite time of the year. The weather changes, the trees turn vivid shades of yellow and red, people seem to smile more, the music on the radio and holiday decorations make things bright and we all seem to have an extra jump in our step.
But for many of us, this time of year can also mean melancholy and sadness, whether from loneliness or as a reminder of events that weigh heavily on us. I lost a daughter in November, a sister from drug overdose right before Thanksgiving, my mom passed suddenly not long before Christmas and my two divorces happened in November.
We can look at the wounds in our life as victims and grow darker, or we can see them as openings in our hearts to grow more compassionate and lighter. And that is what I want to focus on in gratitude as we approach Thanksgiving.
Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a federal holiday in 1863 in the midst of a bitter, brutal and bloody Civil War. Today, we are also in a time of great division and tribalism where there is anger and frustration towards our fellow women and men. We lack the connection as an American family today, seemingly tearing ourselves apart once again.
Let us pause and ask ourselves how at this Thanksgiving we might help rebuild the American family as we sit down to dine together.
I have a humble suggestion borne from my own pain and hurt. I have discovered in life that you can’t break an emotional attachment that pushes hate or division with a rational argument. It doesn’t work either in private or public life. The only way to rebuild our connections isn’t through logic but by establishing a heartfelt and emotional bond with those around us and in our communities.
And the best way to create a renewed bond of the heart is to realize we all share common joys and sorrows. Each of us has fallen in love, had our heart broken, enjoyed a wonderful moment in nature, experienced loss in our lives, celebrated together a victory in sports, or laughed or cried in a moment that touched us. And it is there in those places that we can revisit what we have in common.
There will be much talk about impeachment in the news over the Thanksgiving holiday, discussions about investigations that touch the core of our democracy and of the need for new leadership in Washington D.C. or state capitols. Before we delve into all that around the family rooms of America, how about we try to find in one another a common emotional link? Let us find out what heartbreak someone else experienced and share our own pain. Let us discover what makes another smile, and see if we can laugh spontaneously through humor or at our own flaws. Every person in America has an idea of happiness as well as a story of hardship. We can begin to move towards the common good if we take a moment to link ourselves to a common heart and soul.
Yes, we must pursue justice and push towards a more perfect union. But the only way we can start that painful process is to restore the American family and what we share.
Let us remember what President Lincoln said in his proclamation of Thanksgiving as a federal holiday: may we “fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.”
Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent. Opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of ABC News.