When the world appears to go off track, it’s nevertheless a time to speak of gratitude. Such a time is now, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, in a year that ranks as the worst in recent memory – when the coronavirus pandemic has claimed more than a 1.5 million lives worldwide, 300,000 of them in The United States; when 12 million Americans remain unemployed; when a surprising number of Americans say they reject the presidential election outcome of Nov. 3; and when our lives have been disrupted to the point of not seeing family and friends, even during the holiday celebrations that bring order and meaning to our lives.
Gratitude refers to what is meaningful to us, an emotion welling up when something pleases our soul or enhances our sense of well-being. Close upon Thanksgiving, my wife Alice began a “Gratitude Pumpkin.” Beginning at the top, each day she continued to circle the small orange fruit with numbered points of gratitude. Not seeking originality, she listed what spoke to her deeply – children and family, a happy marriage, health, friends, neighbors, and on to newspapers, books, health care workers, Bluffton Hospital, U.S. Mail, computers, and sunshine. Running out of space, number 37 simply read, “democracy.” Whether take-for-granteds or personal choices, all signified her wish to be mindful of life’s blessings.
My points of gratitude echo many of Alice’s. Others include people who will wear masks until vaccines render them unnecessary; technology that enables us to connect with others online – an appreciation perhaps reaching back decades to my rural household between Bluffton and Columbus Grove, which had one wall-phone, with a party line open to listeners! I’m grateful for having lived enough years that my hair has long been gray, and soon may be white. I never fail to appreciate Handel’s “Messiah,” or to check my memory of old movies such as “In the Heat of the Night,” with Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger.
There are take-for-granteds, too: my coffee group of 10 or 12 persons (depending); hearing and eyesight; safety when walking at night; in-church services (when they return); travel; changing ideas through the years; the beauty – and haunting loneliness – of the night sky.
On another level altogether, relief will attend President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s assuming their new offices in January. In part they were elected to calm things down. It’s encouraging that Biden’s political approach during a long career, and in the weeks since Nov. 3, resembles the Biblical verse (Isaiah 1:18) President Lyndon Johnson was fond of quoting: “Come now, let us reason together.”
I’m especially grateful to acknowledge that people with whom I sharply disagree are more than their politics. Gratitude reaches far and wide in societies characterized by diversity and pluralism, though not so far as to respect the absurdity of birtherism or the fantastical QAnon belief that a satanic cult is ruling Planet Earth.
Gratitude can have transformative effects on people’s lives. It can serve to block toxic emotions such as resentment and regret, which then opens the door to more involvement with life. We become greater participants rather than spectators.
We are not born with gratitude. But it can be taught, and learned. Once that happens, it takes only open eyes to spot things to be thankful for.
Ron Lora, a native of Bluffton, is professor emeritus of history at the University of Toledo. His column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, owner of The Lima News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.