The Thanksgiving Day holiday is coming up this week in the United States. In other countries, holidays are coming over the coming weeks when families have traditionally gathered. When people describe the expectations for a holiday gathering, the Norman Rockwell Painting “Freedom from Want” is the most common expression. We have some standard that this painting calls from us. The painting was done in 1942 in the US during the height of the Second World War when there were plenty of wants. It was published in March of 1943 on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post and became iconic almost immediately.
I bring up the history of the piece because of a couple of things.
First, the painting has become an impossible standard. As anyone who has ever attended a family holiday gathering knows. The idea of a family of all ages sitting happily around the table and laughing like they don’t have a care in the world, is an unlikely scenario. Many, in fact, dread this time of year.
For many of my friends over the years, they have had times when the holidays is a time of particular challenge. Anyone who has lost a loved one for example or anyone who cannot be with family for whatever the reason. Rockwell’s painting can seem to mock their situation. This year, with the pandemic in full force in the US, it is likely to be particularly hard for many people who elect safety over family gatherings and who won’t be able to share that stuffed turkey dinner in person.
But let me turn to my second thought about the painting. Rockwell painted the piece based on a January 1941 speech by US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) who shared a vision of a postwar America based on four basic human freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear. Rockwell’s painting was painted at a bleak time for the United States and for the rest of the world. Yet the painting isn’t dark. It does not show fear of speaking, fear based on religion, fear from want or people who are afraid.
So, as we turn our attention in the US to Thanksgiving and elsewhere in the world to Christmas and other holidays over the coming weeks, I’m taking the message of hope that Rockwell painted. A vision not of today but of the days to come when the fear and wants we have suffered this year become memories of the past.
For those who are having a hard time during this holiday period, know that you are not alone and that this painting isn’t the standard that everyone else is magically experiencing. Think of it as a picture of a world ahead that we can all look forward to.
Stay safe everyone.