One of the key lessons of the last couple of years of economic downturn is simple: Don’t take things for granted.

One of the key lessons of the last couple of years of economic downturn is simple: Don’t take things for granted.

Not a job, not a roof overhead, not food on the table, not weekends at the lake, not a new car every other year, maybe not a car at all. None of it. Even though most people have held on to their jobs and their homes, looking around and hearing from friends and neighbors gives one pause.

We still have it better than most people around the world, and we still have things from clean water at the tap to grocery stores full of food that hundreds of millions of people can only hope for. Although a material standard of living matters and it deeply affects the prospects for a child born in Blue Springs, Belgrade or Beijing, those are still just things.

The spirit of Thanksgiving is about more than that. It is about the ideas that define us. Take the Pilgrim story apart any way you wish. Take it literally, or take it as a nice story – embellished through the years – that still serves as a great American parable. It’s about struggling and starting over. It’s about the human desire for freedom – freedom of conscience and freedom to pursue one’s destiny. It’s a story of loss and sacrifice. It’s a story of timely help from neighbors. It’s a story of grit, hard work, hope and at least a moment to ponder all a person, a family, a community has been given.

Grit, hard work and hope are in steady demand these days. Of these, hope might be most important. The assumption that things can and will be better for the next generation has been a defining part of the American story. It keeps us looking ahead to brighter days.