Thanksgiving Day in 1890, editors of the Iowa State Register wrote that “This [holiday] has a mission and a blessing all its own to bestow upon all who open their souls to its beauty and good cheer.”
Each Thanksgiving, Iowans continue to celebrate that spirit of good cheer and heartland gratitude, even as we face our own struggles. We might be toasting to a new job or promotion – or facing financial hardship on the farm or with the rent. We might be celebrating the birth of a new family member or godchild – or grieving the unexpected loss of a loved one.
This year, we celebrated the birth of our daughter Selwyn Nunn — a New Year’s baby, and mourned the loss last week of my amazing Grandmother Patrica Martin, head of the family’s century farm, mother to six children, including the eldest my phenomally caring mother LuAnn.
Even though fewer Iowans are farming than in the past, our state’s agricultural, communal heritage remains strong. We still work together to get through the hard times so we can enjoy the good ones. We still look out for our neighbors, who come from all walks of life, because our heartland bond means something.
Gratitude comes easy when we understand that what is “good” in Iowa is years or decades in the making, often thanks to work across generations. But bad news happens fast. Thus, it’s easy for bad news to win the day. In an instant information environment, it’s hard to report on things that make us grateful because the news is the now — and almost nothing goes from bad to good instantly.
For one, consider that 50,000 fewer Iowans are in poverty today than in 2012, even though our state’s population is growing. Private sector innovation, job growth, public programs for workforce training, charities, and nonprofit organizations have all played a role.
Bipartisan justice reform has also helped some Iowans get ahead by affording a path out of prison and into cost-efficient rehabilitation programs, where they return to their families as productive community members.
As we enjoy our Thanksgiving supper, we should celebrate the progress Iowa’s farmers have made in feeding people, fueling the world, and conserving lands for the next generation. Iowa farmers have increased cover crop acres by 250 percent since 2012 to protect water quality. At the same time, they produced billions of bushels of corn and soybeans, 16.2 billion eggs, 7.7 billion pounds of red meat, and 23.5 million hogs just last year. Historic gains in productivity have allowed Iowa to provide nutritious foods to hundreds of millions of people who faced famine and suffering not long ago.
In 1970, 912 people in Iowa died in motor vehicle accidents. Through technology and pragmatic efforts by communities, law enforcement, and lawmakers, road deaths have since dropped by 65 percent even though more people drove more miles.
The violent crime rate in Iowa is down 23 percent since 1993.
The cancer mortality rate has declined by 16 percent in Iowa since 1999.
Surely, we have many things for which we should be grateful. Clean energy leadership. Iowa academics and companies leading research on self-driving cars and combines. 5G innovation. Quality public education and top-ranked high school graduation rates. A non-partisan redistricting process. The list goes on, and it inspires a deep sense of gratitude that we see moving Iowans to do good and serve others.
Yet we must be clear-eyed about the challenges ahead. Poverty is down, but some Iowans are still poor. Farmers are more productive than ever, but they still face significant challenges, from trade to the need to be simultaneously sustainable and profitable. Violent crime is down, but there are still victims in every county every year. Road fatalities have plummeted, but 319 Iowans still had their lives cut short last year.
We shouldn’t be happy about any of that. Not for a second.
But amid the challenges, we should come together this holiday weekend with gratitude. We don’t give thanks to turn a blind eye to everything that is still wrong or painful. We give thanks to remember and to celebrate the service and sacrifices that made today possible, even as we prepare for the work ahead. We recognize our success with gratitude so we can have the strength to do more of what is right.
We are right to be gracious for all that is worthy of our gratitude this Thanksgiving. Grace, as we read in the book of Proverbs, is the cloth of strength and dignity that affords us the courage to look toward a better future.
This is exactly what we’ll be doing this holiday weekend. From our family to you and yours, Happy Thanksgiving.