I’ve spent Thanksgiving in some surreal settings: I was just an 11-year-old kid, my Diplomatic Passport yanked away by my Dad after I’d mischievously biked through the Brandenburg Gate to explore East Berlin, when my family celebrated Thanksgiving in a bitterly divided Berlin; fifteen years later, I marked the holiday with five other sailors and a luke-warm plate of scrambled eggs on a patrol boat in Vietnam; and then as a Senator, in 2007, Teresa and I spent part of Thanksgiving weekend awe-struck in the presence of a frail but fearless Nelson Mandela.
So I am particularly thankful this year to know that we live in a world where near-miraculous change is possible – where Cold War rivalry could give way to a united Germany and a democratic Europe; where war-torn Southeast Asia could become a magnet for investment and growth; and where the hard rain of apartheid could end with the dawn of a new era marked by reconciliation and truth.
Faith in our collective power to resolve seemingly intractable problems is a gift that should inspire us all this Thanksgiving, for there is certainly no shortage of challenges to engage our determination, our will, and our perseverance.
So I’m especially grateful for the family and friends who sustain us, who prod us not to take ourselves so seriously even as we take our responsibility seriously, and I give thanks for the people whose names many will never know, those who care for the sick and the hurt, often at grave risk to themselves.
I give thanks for the activists and “trouble-makers” across the globe who speak up each day on behalf of better government, more opportunity, and greater respect for the rule of law.
I give thanks for all who defend their own dignity and rights while still honoring the rights of others, for the healers who build bridges between rivals, for the teachers of forgiveness, and for the architects of peace.
I give thanks for the scientists who have alerted us to the dangers of climate change and to the advocates of conservation and the innovators in clean energy who are striving to preserve the health of our planet.
I give thanks for those who risk their lives to ensure access to quality education for every girl, every boy, everywhere — and to end violence against women.
I am grateful for truth-telling journalists, bloggers, photographers, and artists, particularly those who have lost their lives in that struggle.
And I am grateful for those who serve in our armed forces and diplomatic missions at home and abroad – brave men and women defending liberty, advancing democracy, combating evil, and keeping good people safe.
Above all, I give thanks for those who rebel against the counsels of complacency and defeatism – and who welcome the opportunity to achieve what others say cannot be done.
There’s no greater gift than the one we all have every day whether we know it or not: waking up every day as American citizens with the opportunity to make the world a little more safe, a little more just, and a little more free, and the responsibility always – always – always – to try.
John Kerry is the 68th U.S. Secretary of State.