We have a tradition at Thanksgiving dinner, probably like many families, when we all say what we are thankful for. It’s good to think about the good things in our lives, to dwell on what makes us happy, especially in these perilous times when bombs and bullets seem to threaten us wherever we look. Right now I am thankful that when our Christmas tree, that we had just put up and decorated, crashed over, nobody was hurt.
But something is often missing in these recitations: whom we are thanking. We can be thankful for food on the table or family togetherness without thinking too hard about who might be responsible. So I’ll say a little about the people I wish to thank for the life I enjoy.
I should start with my parents. Of course, without them I would not exist, but they did much more than conceive me. My mother showed me how to play ping-pong and pool, taught me tennis and golf. My father, who grew up with soccer rather than baseball, played endless games of catch until I threw a ball better than he could. They showed me how to play fair to win. Sports always demonstrates wider ideals. Their love for the Dodgers and Jackie Robinson was my first lesson in civil rights. They nurtured and taught me, modeled values and created a personality.
My brother is younger, and didn’t teach me much until we were both adults. Over these last few decades, he has taught me much about myself just by being himself. I look to him to connect me with my first family.
My wife taught me about feminism. Creating gender equality takes much more than repeating slogans or wishing the world were different. I had to give up male privileges, in exchange for which I gained a partner, someone whose life is as interesting as mine, whose ideas are as weighty, whose opinions as valuable.
I thank my children for showing me how to be a father. My own father was a good model, but imitation is not enough. These days they teach me more than I teach them, from cooking vegetarian dinners to making computers work to thinking clearly about life’s difficult problems.
I thank my teachers. Some went beyond their prescribed lessons, designed for all students, to see me and what I needed, transforming teaching from a job into a calling. They inspired me to follow in their footsteps as well as I can.
I thank my editor, who has literally given me space here to think out loud, without regard for whether we agree.
Much more distant, but still important in my life, are the founders of our nation. They risked their lives to conceive something new, a political system based on neither tradition, religious dogma nor inherited status, but on ideals of equality and democratic power. Since then, many generations of founders have ignored conventional prejudices and improved that system, stretching equality and democracy to include more people, always risking much to fight those who claimed superiority for themselves. Our system was not nearly perfect when I was born, and remains imperfect. But the American life I enjoy would not have been possible without their struggles and sacrifices.
I thank many people whose names I don’t know, who bring my mail and take my trash, who arrange for electricity and water and gas to be delivered to my house, who do their jobs so I can do mine. We don’t think of them often enough. If you try to fetch your own water, chop your own wood and create your own heat, their contribution to our lives becomes apparent.
I thank government workers. As a group, they take a lot of heat from people with political axes to grind. Most earn middling salaries and deal with every kind of citizen, day after day, providing services without which we could not drive our cars, fly in airplanes, vote, or organize our communities. Some of them have risky jobs. I have never needed a firefighter or a cop, but I sleep better at night knowing that I can call them up at any time for help in situations far beyond my control.
I thank the writers who don’t know me, but have provided me with their wisdom, their flights of fancy, their strings of words which enrich my life. I try to do the same for my readers.
I thank my friends. Some I have known nearly all my life; others I met only recently. Friends forget my mistakes and forgive my excesses. They are willing to give more than they get, because we are not keeping score.
None of us is an island. Whatever goodness comes to us is brought by others. Whatever we achieve has been helped by others. I should have thanked more people more often for what they have given me, but this is the best I can do now to catch up.
published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, December 1, 2015