Pretty much an equal-opportunity Grinch, I find the way holidays are celebrated nowadays to be a disheartening orgy of consumerism, enforced gaiety, and familial anguish. Not to mention the traffic, and the pervasive TV commercials urging the purchase of items we don't need to impress people we don't like. (And, despite the current economic crisis, I, unlike President Bush, don't feel it's a demonstration of patriotism to respond to crises by "going shopping").
All that said, if I have to pick a holiday worth celebrating, I'd pick Thanksgiving. No gifts, no lines at the mall, no months-long build-up of gift expectations and complicated social plans. Basically, Thanksgiving is about eating and watching football, with the culturally-approved nap thrown in.
Seriously, though, I also like the idea of a holiday that's built around gratitude. And while I'm deeply thankful for my family and friends, for good health, and for being born in the time period that saw the invention of microwave popcorn, I think there are a few other things to be grateful for this year. To wit:
1) Barack Obama won the election. As Bill Maher said a few weeks back on his HBO show Real Time with Bill Maher, "seven years after 9/11, we elect for president a black man with a Muslim name." Which is frankly amazing. And only goes to show that, with all its flaws (exacerbated during the painful eight years of the Bush administration), the United States, as a nation and as an idea, still has the capacity to astonish and inspire.
2) Sarah Palin is not our Vice-President in waiting. Yes, I know she's become a media and political superstar, with presidential aspirations for 2012. Yes, I know she's just signed one of those ridiculous book deals for $7 million. (Though, as my friend Garry Shandling remarked, she's probably under the impression that the fee is for reading a book, not writing one.) Yes, I know she's energized the GOP right-wing base (especially those impressed with her ability to shoot and field-dress a moose).
So, okay, she's going to be a splinter in the eye of progressives and moderates in the coming years (though personally, I think there's less chance of her running for president and a greater likelihood that she'll turn to the media, becoming the female Rush Limbaugh)...even if all this is so, we can still give thanks that she didn't make it into the White House. Symbolically, it would have been a disaster for the nation.
Pragmatically, given McCain's age and troubling health issues, it could have meant the possibility of something far, far worse...
3) Tina Fey's impression of Sarah Palin. In direct contradiction to what I wrote above, there was one good thing that came out of Palin's emergence on the national scene, and that was Tina Fey's SNL impression of the V-P candidate. As they say in those Master Card commercials, "Priceless."
4) The New York Times recurrent column featuring a conversation between two of their Op-Ed columnists, David Brooks and Gail Collins. Smart, funny, respectful of differences, their back-and-forth dialogue about the presidential campaign gave hope to those of us who enjoy reasonable people debating about unreasonable things with a degree of reasonableness. If that makes sense.
5) The NFL. Of course, I'm thankful for pro football every year, but never more so than at this time of year, when they stack the games up on the tube, and the only price for this gluttony of gridiron action is relentless truck commercials.
6) IPods. At my age, I'm rarely excited or moved by some new technological marvel, but when my family gave me one of these little touch-activated babies, with which I can down-load all my favorite (read jazz classics and 70's-80's rock) music and then listen to them on earphones...I mean, wow, how long has this been going on? Given how long my family and friends have been urging me to join the 21st century, especially when it comes to technology, and given my self-righteous refusal to share their enthusiasms, it comes as a great surprise to me that I LOVE MY IPOD!!!
7) Those new oatmeal cups at Starbucks. Great idea as the weather turns cool.
8) Writers who still write as if writing matters, including (among many others): Phillip Roth, Toni Morrison, David Rabe, Neil Labute, Ian McEwan, Ron Hansen, Anne Tyler, Annie Proulx, David McCullough, Timothy Ferris, Annie Dillard, and Michael Frayn. (I assure you, dozens more will come to mind minutes after I post this.)
9) Psychoanalytic Dialogues, still the best academic/clinical journal available when it comes to examining the latest thinking in self-psychology and intersubjectivity theory.
10) Did I mention those great new oatmeal cups at Starbucks?
Regardless of what's on your gratitude list, here's hoping you and yours have a safe, happy Thanksgiving.