Each year at Thanksgiving, before tucking into the feast, we go around the table and express gratitude for something. My husband often advises that mentioning family is off limits—he thinks it goes without saying that we are most grateful for our families—but this rule is flouted every single year. And rightly so. Families are the alpha and omega of a well-rounded life.
This year, I will list health among the top blessings for which I’m grateful. Millions of Americans will be sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner this week with an empty chair at the table. More than 770 thousand Americans have died of COVID in the past 18 months and 175,000 children have lost a parent, guardian, or caretaker grandparent.
We are grateful to have been spared during this siege.
I have another reason to be thankful for health. Over the course of the past two years, I have undergone four surgeries (not cosmetic!), and experienced a good deal of pain. When you are in extreme pain, life closes in like a camera aperture. Your scope for dealing with the wider world shrinks down to zero. You are a prisoner in your body. And when the first relief from pain arrives, you think you’ll never need anything else again. Release from pain is more delicious than the most exhilarating pleasure.
You’d think that you wouldn’t need to feel pain to be grateful for its absence, but that seems to be part of the human condition. I’ve tried, not altogether successfully, to overcome this complaisance. Whenever someone has a brush with death, people always ask whether the experience imparted some new perspective on life. I decided long ago that I wouldn’t wait for such a harsh lesson to begin taking stock. We have imagination, don’t we? If I were hit by a bus and survived, would I still be doing what I’m doing now? Would I have other priorities? It’s actually fun to think of yourself as having just escaped death and getting a new lease on life, because, let’s face it, we all do, every single day. There are no limits. You can decide to change your work, your appearance, your hobbies, and even your relationships. We all have agency—far more than we are encouraged to believe in our victim-centered culture.
I’m also thankful that among the things America still gets right is rewarding inventiveness. Our (mostly) free market economy created the incentives for genius researchers and the companies that employed them to invent vaccines for COVID in nothing flat. Even for the deluded fools who’ve rejected vaccines, science and the market have come through with new therapeutics that will prevent hospitalization and death in most cases even for them. The fertile American mind is going to defeat COVID and free us from this scourge. Big Pharma may feed at the government trough and commit other sins, but this Thanksgiving I’m raising a glass to them.
We’ve all experienced Zoom fatigue and I’m as eager as anyone to return to in-person life. But that technology transformed the past year and a half. Others can better assess the economic consequences—which I suspect were enormous, in that Zoom and video-conferencing software in general kept businesses and governments functioning—but I want to stress the personal. Being in lockdown fed a great hunger for connection, and in addition to being able to see and talk to my colleagues, extended family, and others, it deepened relationships that had been neglected. My oldest friend lives in LA and we see each other only rarely. The pandemic spurred us to connect on Zoom, and now seeing her has become a regular delight.
I’m grateful for all the Americans who are fighting the descent into tribalism and moral idiocy, especially those who are putting their careers at risk to do so: Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, Mitt Romney, and a few (sadly, very few) other Republicans. Also my colleagues at The Bulwark and my fellow panelists on Beg to Differ inspire me every day.
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I’m grateful that the supermarkets are still groaning with foods of every kind, and while prices are up and spot shortages are noticeable, we will not have to forgo turkey or stuffing or cranberries or fruit or bread or wine. Our challenge will be to not overindulge, which is a joy and a blessing. Now I’m off to bake cranberry/pumpkin muffins before picking up my son at the airport. Happy Thanksgiving!