History is a long series of inflection points where advances take place overnight and catastrophes are averted by razor-thin margins.
For instance: You may never have heard of Vasili Arkhipov or Stanislav Petrov, but you owe your life to these two men who, in two completely unrelated instances that took place 21 years apart, singlehandedly stopped the United States and the Soviet Union from annihilating each other (and probably the rest of the world) in a nuclear holocaust.
In both cases, the course of human history came down to a single human being’s decision and we’re all here to say “whew” but that’s just sheer luck. I like to toast these guys on Thanksgiving and express my appreciation for their bravery and levelheadedness in moments of unthinkable stress and terror.
The election three weeks ago didn’t come down to the choice of a single man but to 80 million Americans who made a choice to bring the world a step back from some kind of catastrophe. Certainly, the fate of the United States (as we have come to enjoy it) was probably on the ballot. I’m immensely grateful to everyone who voted Donald Trump out of office.
That said, I’m also grateful that those who voted for Trump have not, as he would seem to prefer, engaged in any sort of insurrection. I say he would “seem to prefer” this because his rhetoric is that of someone who believes, and would like his followers to believe, that the election was rife with “fraud” and “rigged” and “stolen.”
If these charges were literally true, then his followers would not only be justified but indeed expected to pour into the streets to defend their democracy against what would be a coup.
But—in spite of Trump’s ongoing malignant deceit—at least so far, his followers have resigned themselves to angry and incendiary Parler and Facebook posts. I’m extremely grateful to them for their restraint. Maybe this won’t continue indefinitely, but I see gratitude as a minute-by-minute, day-by-day, year-by-year activity. If you wait to be grateful until everything is perfect, you’ll live out your life perpetually disappointed and unsatisfied. The time to be grateful is always right now.
We mustn’t temper our gratitude because things aren’t as good here as they are in some alternate universe. We ought to express our gratitude for that which we actually have in our lives.
I don’t think I’m overstating anything when I say that people are exhausted.
They’re exhausted by the pandemic (both by the practical hardships and the inane public debate which turned public health into a front of the culture war).
They’re exhausted by the election drama and the post-election drama.
They’re exhausted having to feel awkward, or worse, angry around their friends and relatives with whom they now have such deep disagreement that the divide seems unbridgeable.
Alex Trebek and Eddie Van Halen were both taken by cancer.
And now, even as the vaccine cavalry is riding in, we are told that we still have months more to wait and both the winter and spring holiday seasons to suffer through before we can start hugging one another again.
But in spite of all this, we can experience and express a huge sense of relief and gratitude that indeed there is a vaccine on the way and that the election is over and that whatever homegrown insurgency we may one day have to deal with hasn’t reared its ugly head. And we didn’t all die in a fiery nuclear blast furnace either in the ’60s or in the ’80s or in any of the other close calls that have happened since.
Indeed, even in our imperfect world, there is so much to be grateful for. (When? Yes, yes . . . right now!)
We’re here—and we’ve dodged another bullet and with a little bit of luck we’ll dodge the next one. But if we don’t, if the next one finally finds its way right to our heart—well, we can figure out what to be grateful for then.
But in the meantime, I’m celebrating right now and encourage you to do the same.
Thank you for everything.