Two characteristics qualify any person for Humanity’s Hall of Fame – generosity and gratitude. Of the two, gratitude seems to say more about selflessness if only because it recognizes the generosity of others and, on a larger scale, of God. Saying “Thank you” acknowledges the importance of others in anyone’s life while validating their generosity. Can there be any better description of the meaning of Thanksgiving?

It seems strange that the November Thursday as we know it today is not a religious holiday, even though God’s goodness is at the heart of our celebrations. The day is more about harvest, the abundance of life and family blessings than about God, however entwined all may be. Homecomings, turkey dinners, football games and shopping sprees make the weekend a celebration of family, friends and God’s many gifts, reminding everyone to be grateful for and take care of what is most important.

There has been a twist to the holiday in recent years, however. Many people and their entitled offspring have been facing a whole new reality because of the continuing economic disaster. Times have been tough for the current generation, challenging their spirits to grasp the meaning of all that has been happening.

It might help for them to remember that Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation” grew up in and through the Great Depression and World War II. Yet, they have been a thankful bunch, possibly because they saw what might have been had they not stepped up to confront the insanities of their times.

There has to be a lesson in that for all of us and this generation particularly. The ravages of greed in business, government and individuals that have produced the Great Recession need to be countered with gratitude for what one has, not resentment for what one lacks, or even for what has been lost. This generation needs to be grateful for learning, even if reluctantly, that life is more about what one contributes to it than what one gets from it. Thanksgiving is always a time to be grateful for all that has been given, to be sure. But, this year especially, “thank you” takes on a special meaning for those whose families have been there for them during the tough times; for those whose friends’ and neighbors’ generosities have been helping them to get through unexpected downturns.

The economy seems to be healing, but “what might have been” remains a possibility in these still-fragile days. Thank God our Hall of Famers know that generosity and gratitude offer the best way to accomplish what remains to be done.