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Thanksgiving is the holiday of gratitude, which is fine. I'm all for taking time out to be grateful for the many blessings we enjoy, but we shouldn't stop there. There should be more to Thanksgiving than simply appreciating what has been given to us. This should also be a time of doing something for others.
The Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth 390 years ago lived their lives according to the New Testament. They were undoubtedly mindful of the verse in the Gospel of Luke that says, "Much is expected of those to whom much has been given." This message still applies today, whatever one's religious belief or lack thereof, especially in St. Louis.
Some of what we in St. Louis have been given comes from what the Pilgrims regarded as divine providence, the abundance of fresh water from the Mississippi River being a prime example. What we take for granted is the envy of billions of people in the world, including millions in other parts of the United States.
Much of what we have been given, however, comes from the men and women who came before us. Thanks to the water treatment facility that was built for the 1904 World's Fair, St. Louis still has better municipal water than almost every other American city.
The brilliant scientist Sir Isaac Newton famously declared, "If I have seen further, it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants." We in St. Louis are fortunate to be standing on the shoulders of giants in almost every field of human endeavor.
Because of generous art collectors such as Buster May, the St. Louis Art Museum is highly regarded throughout the world. Because of visionaries such as Howard Baer, our zoo and museums are almost unique in offering free admission.
From the Dred Scott case before the Civil War to Shelley versus Kraemer a hundred years later, St. Louis has spawned landmark civil rights litigation. Many of the freedoms we enjoy today were earned by the courage of litigants in prior generations.
All of us were educated in schools made possible by the tax dollars, philanthropy and foresight of others. We all benefit from treatment by doctors whose training was subsidized by others, perhaps at one of our two excellent medical schools. We enjoy leisure and recreation in municipal parks that are admired all over the world and were laid out long before any of us was born. We enjoy shade from trees that are older than we are.
On a personal level, back in the 1850s, members of the Know-Nothing Party prevented my great grandfather from attending public school in Carlyle, Illinois because he was a foreign born Catholic. His only schooling came from a Jewish neighbor who tutored him along with his own son, who was also barred from public school. This informal tutoring by a neighbor whose name has since been forgotten has helped five subsequent generations of the Schlafly family live the American dream.
The only way we can repay those who have done so much for us is to do something for others: through volunteer service, financial contributions or both. The needs in St. Louis are many. The opportunities to make a difference are there, whatever your interests might be.
My hope is that in 100 years St. Louisans will be giving thanks for their visionary and generous predecessors of 2010.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Tom Schlafly is an attorney in St. Louis.