THANKSGIVING IS, for many, the most affecting of the holidays, a complex mixture of memories, emotions and family obligations that has both its happy and somber moments. This year it's been simplified somewhat, at least so far as the spirit of the day is concerned. To state it plainly: We have a lot to be grateful for in this country, and the gratitude we feel ought to beget great generosity. Lord knows, it's needed right now.
In the past 12 months, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and millions displaced by water, wind, earthquake and fire -- not to mention the usual acts of human violence and the ravages of disease. Each disaster -- tsunami, hurricane, the horrendous quake in Kashmir -- produces its own wave of charitable giving, the responses varying in size and extent depending on such things as media coverage, proximity and other unpredictable factors. But no matter how great the need, one thing is almost certain: The need will exceed, by a considerable margin, the popular attention span for dealing with it. Which is why, last month, not that long after hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the earthquake, you could already find headlines in this paper that read, "Donations Slowing as Disasters Mount Worldwide" and "Charities Report Low Donations for Quake Victims."
This isn't to say that people have lacked generosity. The amounts given for tsunami and hurricane relief have totaled several billion dollars. But more is needed, especially for those facing winter in the Himalayas with little or no shelter and limited food supplies. The series of natural disasters -- including catastrophic mudslides in Central America that seem to have largely escaped the world's attention -- have caused some to speak once again, inevitably, of "compassion fatigue." But look around -- there's little evidence of wallet fatigue in what people are wearing and driving and the places so many of us are living in. During the recent budget debates, Congress argued about cutting $50 billion, and some commented on what a small percentage that was of the national wealth and of budgets that run into the trillions. Small? Imagine what just a fraction of it, added to the fraction already donated, could do to alleviate the suffering that continues in many parts of the world, including this country.
We're into the traditional season of giving. Would that we could deepen and extend it in the interest of charity as much as we have expanded our various holiday occasions in the interest of selling.