In 1864, a coal miner, Elias Williams, lit the fuse to a blasting cap and was hoisted to the top of the shaft. Just as he reached light, the bucket he was in broke. He fell back to the bottom of the shaft hard, breaking bones and knocking away his breath. With just enough presence of mind remaining, he grasped a handful of dust to smother the sputtering fuse, inches from the dynamite.
He was hauled out to his pregnant wife, who gave birth that same cold Pittsburgh November. Elias's healing took 18 months. There they were, as the Welsh say, "in a fix." Yet they made it, or I wouldn't be here. They had come from Wales in 1861--apparently, an America suffering a Civil War looked better than home as it was then. They were the parents of my mother's mother.
My mother's father was just 3 when his father was killed while working on the installation of the New York City subway electrical system in 1905. The widowed Mother Marsh raised him and his four brothers and two sisters, fatherless, to pull themselves up to found businesses that provided jobs for hundreds--and to grow families of their own, his with a daughter, Victoria, so important to me.
And it is surely certain that in "your" past, someone endured sacrifice, pain, and risk with the courage to make a better life for themselves, directly leading to your well-being this very day.
On Thanksgiving, I will think of those people who came before me. I am, because they were.
May we all have a blessed Thanksgiving Day, fully aware of what we have and more deeply aware of how it came to be.
(this letter ran in The Wall Street Journal "Letters to the Editor" on Nov. 22, 2000)