Thanksgiving and Reflection
What a time, in our own personal histories, and that of our nation and broader world.
As I approached writing a message to you for Thanksgiving, I looked back at some of what I have said in the past. What thoughts still feel timeless and what hopes and wishes are dated, trapped in a moment that has passed?
Last year, we were about 8 months into this pandemic. There was no vaccine protection to be had, but hope was on the horizon. The first shots to be given outside of a clinical trial would come in December. While some took the risks to gather, I, and I suspect many of you, did not travel or have large celebrations for the holidays.
I wrote at the time: “As we approach Thanksgiving, the usual annual reckonings of gratitude and concern, of family reunions and holiday shopping, of vacation plans and weighing household budgets, of the work and pleasure of life are skewed in ways we never could have imagined.” And so it was. Around us was a sense of dread and sadness.
“It is hard to comprehend this season without feeling a sense of loss,” I wrote. “And yet I know whatever small loss I feel, of distance from loved ones and missed moments of joy and togetherness, pales next to the loss of many of my fellow Americans.” More than a quarter million Americans had died from COVID last Thanksgiving. I remember feeling it was a staggering total. More than a half million have died in the year since. If you had told me that would be the case I wouldn’t have believed you because weren’t we about to get a miraculous new tool in the fight against the disease?
“A vaccine is coming,” I wrote last year. “It is a reality and a metaphor. It is a symbol of what hard work, science, and commitment can provide. It is a triumph of creativity and expertise. It will do a lot to repair our broken lives. But will we seize that moment to not just go back, but to go forward towards a more perfect union? Will we look with clear eyes on all that was broken before this pandemic that we can no longer ignore? Will we mend and build?”
The answer to these questions, tragically, has been no. Not only have we not mended or focused on what was broken, the vaccine itself has been turned into a political tool. It is incomprehensible and devastating. And that those with public megaphones would undermine this life-giving treatment puts the dangers of our time into even starker relief.
And yet, it would be a mistake to only dwell today on negatives. Try to remember what life was like a year ago, before the vaccine. I felt that whenever I had to leave the house or be in contact with someone outside of our little bubble, I was at great danger, and so were my loved ones. I do not feel that now. Not only did I get the first two shots of the vaccine, I have now received the third dose. And for that I am deeply thankful.
I know there are great challenges. I know there is a lot about these times that are frightening. But as I look back at other things I have written, on other Thanksgivings, and as I think about what life is, and can be, I wish to share once more a mixture of past and future ruminations.
For Thanksgiving has always been a time when I try to pause from the daily tides of life - to reflect on all that I have to be thankful for, to remember those less fortunate and to resolve in the coming year to try to do my part in endeavoring to make the world a better and more equitable place.
So I am thankful for being able to gather with my loving family, while recognizing many others are lonely, or are suffering through personal tragedies, or have family that has been a cause of pain and not love.
I am thankful for the bounty of our table, while reflecting on all those who go hungry on this day and throughout the year.
I am thankful for the warmth and security of my home and neighborhood, while knowing that many families and children in America and around the world are homeless or exposed. They must huddle for fragile or nonexistent security in the face of violence and the forces of nature.
I am thankful that I have been able to enjoy a career from which I never want to retire, while understanding that many must earn a living through dangerous, difficult and back breaking work.
I am thankful for a life of largely good health, well aware of all those who suffer through the pain and capriciousness of debilitating and terminal illness.
I am thankful for having been born in a land that granted me freedom and opportunity, having seen how many of my fellow citizens and certainly many countless millions more around the globe are trapped by the circumstances of their birth.
I know that these are deeply troubling times but the struggle for a better nation and world must start with recognizing that many of us start from places of privilege and strength.
May the day be one of peace and reflection for you and your loved ones.
And may I add that I am deeply thankful for all of you who are helping make this one of the most edifying, and certainly surprising, chapters of my life. You have given an old newsman a venue to share my thoughts and more importantly hear yours. This Steady community, you, all of you who have signed up and shared what we are doing here, fill me with hope and gratitude.