Whenever I turn to a news site, whether in paper form or on-line, I find above all else the spewing of bile. More than any time in my memory, we American news junkies are witnessing what a Hobbesian state of nature looks like – a war of all against all. I thought the whole purpose of living in civil society was to avoid that kind of climate.
Now don’t get me wrong. I appreciate why we’re fighting all the time. There are good reasons why our political parties and our media outlets have become so polarized. I’ve never been a “turn the other cheek” kind of guy. Still, it’s sad to think that W.B. Yeats may be turning into a prophet once again. He’s the guy who wrote after World War I, “Things fall apart, the center cannot hold.” When it comes to politics, I’m not even sure there is much of a center these days. Our political sphere is starting to resemble a boxing match, where the two fighters are either punching each other or returning to their respective corners to get a breather before the next round of pugilism. In such an arena, there is little room for civility, compromise, or compassion – let alone a political center.
But let me not add to the fisticuffs, at least not this weekend. This is a time to express thanks for what we do have, not to whine about what we don’t.
Let me start with the most important thing: family. I thank my lucky stars that I did not drink the Kool Aid of Marxism when exposed to it as a child, for then I might view the institution of family as a bourgeois tool to support the status quo. Instead, I view the institution of family as my single greatest source of happiness..
I am so incredibly thankful for my omni-patient wife of 29 years, my mother of 96 years (that’s how long she’s been alive, and she keeps on ticking), my two ever-inspiring daughters, and my extended family in NY, DC and Indiana. But let me candid – I’m especially thankful for the fact that this coming March, my wife and I expect to be grandparents for the first time. Is there any status on earth more purely wonderful than that? At least that’s what others tell me. I’m looking forward to finding out for myself.
Second, I am thankful for my friends – the ones on the East Coast, the Midwest, the West Coast, and the tiny number overseas. When you think about it, most of your family was always sort of stuck with you. By contrast, your friends chose you. Sometimes you have to question their taste, but thankfully, that’s their problem, not yours. I am just happy to have found people in different walks of my life who will put up with my neuroses, my habit of talking when I should be listening, my twisted/sophomoric sense of humor ... in short, all my charms.
Third, I am thankful that after all the sturm und drang of the past year, there’s reason not to side with all the Chicken Littles of the world. Personally, I am confident that we won’t be getting into a nuclear war, won’t be persecuting minority religious or ethnic groups, and will be continuing to respect our glorious First Amendment. America might not be living up to its aspirations of being, in the words of Jesus, “the light of the world, a city that is set on a hill.” But nor do I believe all our best days are behind us. I am thankful for the great men and women who created this country and built what in so many ways has been a role model to other nations. May we soon enough be that “light unto the nations” that was discussed in my own people’s Scriptures.
Fourth, I am thankful we live in a time when certain critical trends are unmistakably positive. Internationally, longevity is increasing, whereas poverty is decreasing. Nationally, acceptance of the LGBT community is increasing, whereas the feeling that men can sexually harass with impunity is surely decreasing. MLK Jr. said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Perhaps he was being a tad optimistic generally, but one thing is clear: in certain respects, the arc of history clearly bends toward justice, and we in the year 2017 are witnesses to clear manifestations of that principle.
Fifth, I am thankful for my two dialogue societies that keep on thriving after nine years (in the case of the Jewish-Islamic Dialogue Society of Washington) and sixteen years (in the case of the Washington Spinoza Society). respectively. Of the many things that keeping me from moving out of my home town, those organizations are near the very top.
Finally, I am thankful for having hobbies that allow me as an individual to enjoy life – including both politically-correct hobbies (like reading works of philosophy and religion) and politically incorrect ones (like watching inordinate amounts of football). We are not mini-computers with perfectly empathic hearts. We’re flesh and blood creatures with ids as well as superegos. Personally, I happen to enjoy watching world class athletes run, jump, throw, catch, and smash into each other. Yes, I recognize that my favorite sport damages athletes’ brains no less than their knees. But what I can say? I’m still thankful that I have found hobbies that give me happiness in life, and for the past roughly 52 years, watching football has been one of them. Occasionally, for one reason or another, I feel compelled to boycott the sport. Right now, I’m thankful this isn’t one of those occasions.