I have a confession to make: I’m actually pretty damned thankful this year.
Feeling thankful is a hard thing to fess up to, given how spectacularly crappy things are for so many people in America right now. I am all too aware of how lucky I am to have anything to smile about.
I’m thankful for being in a new home. Earlier this year, my wife and I moved out of our overpriced downtown bunker and into a nice little house on the outskirts of the city. The rent doesn’t break the bank anymore, we have a small yard where we can grill, and we have actual neighbors instead of drunken mobs throwing trash everywhere and vomiting in the streets at all hours of the day and night. There are birds (read: real birds, not pigeons) everywhere, including a huge hawk that soars above the house on wings that look to be fifty feet across. The cat seems to dig the new place more than either of us, which is enough to be thankful for all by itself, given how much of a vicious brute he can be when things aren’t to his liking. We have a home now, my wife and I, and I feel blessed because of it.
My wife’s multiple sclerosis has been entirely stable all this past year, and for that I am more thankful than I can explain. No new symptoms, no new attacks, and the process surrounding her daily care and medication has become as routine as brushing our teeth in the morning. I’m thankful her job provides her with excellent health care insurance, and I know all too well just how unbelievably lucky we both are to have this. The doctors tell us that if her next physical is as positive as her last one was, we can start seriously thinking about and planning for having children. Thankfulness compounded by thankfulness.
My family is healthy and sound. My friends are all hanging in there to one degree or another, but all of them likewise have their health, and just about all of them still have a job. Nobody I know has died or gotten sick, nobody has gotten hurt (with the exception of one friend who knocked out some teeth in an unfortunate encounter with a sidewalk), and nobody has moved away. My friend’s children are all growing up too fast – toddlers became sprinters, and some of those sprinters became college freshmen, a mind-blowing transition even from a distance – but I am told this is to be expected. Someday, soon perhaps, I will be afforded the opportunity to experience this first-hand.
So many people today don’t have what I have – a job, a home, a spouse, friends, family, and a giant mean-tempered cat who likes to snuggle on cold nights – and while I am thankful to have these things, that joy is tempered by a fathomless sadness at the state of this nation today. The urge to feel deeply guilty at my own good fortune is almost overwhelming, but more than that is that sense of despair when contemplating what we have become. Somehow, the idea that everyone should have at least a portion of what I have is a priority that has fallen to the wayside. Jobs are not a priority, nor is legitimate health care for all, and instead we shovel money ever upwards towards the rich and to those whose good fortune far eclipses my own. Instead, we continue to fight unwinnable wars while leaving the military budget largely untouched. So many people are suffering, and nobody in power seems to have the ability or the inclination to do anything about it.
Paul Krugman’s Monday column in the New York Times laid bare some of the cruel realities we face:
On one side, Republicans oppose just about everything that might reduce structural deficits: they demand that the Bush tax cuts be made permanent while demagoguing efforts to limit the rise in Medicare costs, which are essential to any attempts to get the budget under control. On the other, the G.O.P. opposes anything that might help sustain demand in a depressed economy – even aid to small businesses, which the party claims to love.
Right now, in particular, Republicans are blocking an extension of unemployment benefits – an action that will both cause immense hardship and drain purchasing power from an already sputtering economy. But there’s no point appealing to the better angels of their nature; America just doesn’t work that way anymore.
And opposition for the sake of opposition isn’t limited to economic policy. Politics, they used to tell us, stops at the water’s edge – but that was then. These days, national security experts are tearing their hair out over the decision of Senate Republicans to block a desperately needed new strategic arms treaty. And everyone knows that these Republicans oppose the treaty, not because of legitimate objections, but simply because it’s an Obama administration initiative; if sabotaging the president endangers the nation, so be it.
How does this end? Mr. Obama is still talking about bipartisan outreach, and maybe if he caves in sufficiently he can avoid a federal shutdown this spring. But any respite would be only temporary; again, the G.O.P. is just not interested in helping a Democrat govern.
The mirror is a hard place for me these days. It simply reeks of hypocrisy to moan and wail about the deplorable state of affairs many Americans find themselves in while sitting in the comfort of a home, employment, health insurance and family. On the other hand, however, it would be the height of ingratitude if I refused to see what I have and be grateful for it. The bi-polarity of my situation leaves me flailing all too often, looking to strike a balance between despair and optimism.
It is what it is, so here’s my promise: I intend to spend this holiday in full appreciation of the happy places in my life, for they are many. When the day has come and gone, I will get right back to work with eyes wide open to the ordeals and agonies of my fellow citizens. I have much to be thankful for, but I am also my brother and sister’s keeper. When they go without, I and all of us are lessened by it. I am thankful, and also horrified, and we all have so much left to do.
Enjoy the day if you can. You are all in my thoughts.