November 23, 2004

a few of my favorite things

No writer’s pen has ever been more wholly inadequate for its task than is my own in attempting the endeavor before me. To try and capture the tender thanksgiving sentiments of my heart in prose is indeed to court certain failure. Yet in the spirit of the season I will attempt to do so and since listing all that for which I am thankful would take far more time than that which I have to give, I will instead undertake a more modest goal and simply tell you about just a few of my favorite things.

At the top of my list is the big fat stuffed turkey that will sit astride the table of my Thanksgiving Day feast. The privilege of living at a time and place where this type of feast is a regularity is extraordinary in the extreme. We live in a land that is truly blessed with an abundance of food unlike the world has ever known in its history. Amid this abundance, and especially at this time of the year, I try to remember often the story told to me by a Chinese expatriate co-worker several years ago. She related how as a teenager, she had been so proud to work and save for a whole year and when the holidays came, she was able to take her entire savings and with it purchase a single chicken for a special family gustatory treat.

I can vividly recall that story in part because she had a wonderful sense of timing for telling it. Just after her words had absorbed in, and I was beginning to think about what an incredible tale of deprivation it was, she added in a soft voice, tinged with more than a little pain, “My family was the only family in the village that had meat for that holiday.” I was not alone in that room with her that day, but based on the silence of my fellow privileged Americans, one might have thought the room empty.

Remembering the one chicken village makes those left-over turkey sandwiches seem far less oppressive.

Good health would also obviously be at the top of any sensible list of personal bounty. I do not speak merely of being free from illness as is so often what is meant when we Americans speak of good health. Beyond that personal good fortune, I’m grateful for the relative good health we enjoy as a nation as a product of good nutrition and modern healthcare. I am ashamed to admit that I do not spend nearly enough time ruminating on the blessing of living in a place and time where a slight infection is no longer a flirtation with the grim reaper.

When thinking of health, it is hard to speak of the matter and not start first with nutrition. A little Google research is illuminating because you quickly find that there are so many people in the world that are hungry that it difficult to treat healthcare as an independent topic. One credible report stated that of the 6.3 billion people in this world, 1.2 billion live below the international poverty level. Note the adjective “international” because the standard of poverty world wide is measured much differently than is poverty here in the United States. I will spare you the detailed definition, but all you really need to know is that the terms “minimum caloric intake” and “sanitary facilities” are involved.

Honestly, I am not one to self-flagellate over our material wealth here in the United States. While I think we need to do more to help the needy both at home and abroad, I realize that it is not within our power to quickly fix the political and social messes that exist in the world. And it is important to remember also that our gain is not necessarily another’s loss—economics is not a zero-sum game.

But I do think it is important to put our thankfulness in context if we are to have anything that approaches real Gratitude. And only by putting our wealth in perspective can we also open the door for those opportunities where we might be able to assist and not simply wash our hands of the problems by leaving it up to God and economic caprice.

I am thankful too for the social and legal institutions that were bequeathed by our forefathers to its posterity and that are responsible, in good measure, for our extraordinary wealth. The twin pillars of Capitalism and Democratic Republicanism are principals worthy of tempered reverence at this reflective time. While this Curmudgeon does not view either of these philosophical pillars as perfect ideals and though I write critically of the problems in our institutions and society, I stand along side those patriotic Americans who appreciate the fact that far more is right about America than is wrong. Dissent, you see, is not necessarily inconsistent with gratitude.

In these troubled times, dissent is often the very hallmark of a thankful heart.

The right to dissent itself is perhaps one of our most celebrated blessings, and of course, without it, you would not be reading these words. The legacy of Free Speech is perhaps the bedrock on which all of our other blessings rest because it is hard to imagine efficient markets and democratic elections without that fundamental as a precedent. It is no accident that the First Amendment was first.

I will spend time on my knees Thursday thanking God for a land in which human rights actually have some meaning. It is simply impossible to be sufficiently grateful for the fortune of being born in a place where dissent has generally been regarded as an essential tool of progress. I think far too often people who have been free their whole lives forget how tenuous freedom and prosperity are in this world and this is why I am always eager to defend the basic ideas on which our society has been built.

I am also most certainly thankful for you, the gentle and faithful readers of these polemics, for you have sustained my hope for America during a time when the light of the shining city has been all but extinguished. It is with a thankful pen that I always take up the task of opining here at the Disenfranchised Curmudgeon. The passion that I hope I consistently show for civil liberties and the rule of law is rooted in thanksgiving and in a sincere desire to see our looming demise averted for the sake of our own posterity.

You need look no farther than our own backyard to realize that things could have been, and may yet well be, very different for the United States. Haiti, in spite of its substantial commercial head start on the rest of the Western Hemisphere, is an impoverished mess. According to the World Bank, eighty percent of Haitians live in poverty. In the Haitian story you can see clearly the connection between health and hunger: their life expectancy is a mere fifty-seven years.

There, but for the grace of God, go We.

And a bad situation there is getting worse—their feeble economy is actually shrinking rapidly as the population grows steadily. A good friend of mine would be in Haiti right now if it were not for the political instability that accounts for some of the recent heartache of that troubled land. He was to be on a mission trip that was to take a good size group of Christian workers over to help with building schools, repairing homes and assisting churches. A week before the scheduled trip, the local minister called and with a heavy heart asked them not to come: the situation was so dangerous that the work could not be done.

I think there will be more than a few villages in Haiti without a chicken this holiday season.

Alas, when I consider the needs of our Haitian neighbors, my pen does inevitably fail for want of adequate words to express my gratitude for being born the land of milkshakes and honey buns. As we come together to celebrate the Thanksgiving feast of 1621, let us not forget those of the world that do not join us in our festivities. Let us remember those whose condition shares far more with the famine of Plimoth Plantation’s previous winter when half of their number died than it does with the subsequent harvest of plenty.

Join me this Thanksgiving Day, if you will, and pray that at least some among the number of the huddled masses be able next year to give thanks for more than just the stronger soul produced by the adversity with which they daily live. Pray that our own hearts begin again to feel our burden, and that next year some of these poorest villages of our world might also partake of our feast with at least the luxury of a few holiday chickens.

And perhaps, just perhaps, maybe then we Americans will begin to cease being merely wealthy, and rather become more worthy of both our bounty and burden.


Blogger Common Good said...

"I am also most certainly thankful for you, the gentle and faithful readers of these polemics"

David, Common.... gentle. Not so much... pawaaaaa!!!!

I hope you don't make a habit of this sappy bs. You have a very thick skinned bluntly speaking following, and we are here to mix it up... not hold hands and sing Kumbaya.

Please... no more of this you had one chicken we therefore have it great ....yada yada sappy blog drippings. It's sad to see the Curmudgeon warrior backslide into such girly man talk. :)

Bring it on Curm.... some of us need to vent.


9:30 AM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

Only Republicans use the phrase “girly-man”.

9:40 AM  

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