Thankful is not my default setting. Open up the panel on my back, and you’ll find “Critical,” “Curmudgeonly,” “Crazy,” and “Skeptical Skeletor,” but “Thankful” is practically a hidden button, squirreled away in a tiny recess that can only be reached via a modified paperclip, like your car’s time-setting function.
It’s not that I don’t have a thousand things to be thankful for, as this weekend’s reflections have reinforced. I’ve got a small-but-charming abode, a wife who loves me, two animal companions who are closer to sentient stuffed animals than one might normally think of when they hear the word “dogs,” and I live in a state where the governor isn’t a reactionary asshat lashing out at Syrian refugees, and where weed is legal as lager. Plus, I’ve seen the Eagles of Death Metal twice and nobody shot me.
This world we live in never ceases to activate my more-guarded settings. Despite my practically all-consuming love of escapism, I’m constantly reminded that we’d be better off if we were less complacent and more focused on feeling the pain of others and finding ways to adjust the gross injustices that continue to beset us at every turn of the channel.
But right now as I write this, and at least once a week, I try to remember all the things I have to be thankful for. This started, as have many things in the past decade of my life, with a request from my wife. She wanted to pause at the end of the day and say three things we were thankful for. I, of course, scoffed at this initial request, as I do at anything that sounds remotely like some Hallmark Card bullshit, some new-agey, self-centered actualizing exercise designed to reinforce my own basic self-satisfaction and sense that, even as the world skips further off its axis, I’m all right. That tendency to view ourselves and those like us as basically good and fortunate amid a sea of catastrophe and degradation and otherness is a dangerous one, as Bush and Cruz’s rhetoric about accepting only Christian refugees to our shores so amply illustrated. Yes, in your mind, you’re doing fine. That’s all well and good. ‘Tis a small step toward the kind of compartmentalization that’s allowed the global situation to progress to the colossal clusterfuck that continues to beset us, even if only via your more socially conscious Facebook and Twitter chums.
Yet here we are at the tail-end of Thanksgiving weekend. This year, we can apply the mythology of that holiday anew, seeing in the original inhabitants of North America’s welcoming of the pilgrims parallels for our current climate of refugees seeking refuge. We can say that the Wampanoag Nation was foolish to let our ancestors in, or that the whole holiday is a glossing over of the disturbing genocide that followed. On the other hand, we can honor that offering of hands, that crossing of cultural barriers, no matter how ill-advised, and give ourselves a small break from the relentless cynicism that haunts us like the Ghost of Winter Solstice Past all the year ’round.
The choice is yours. The choice is mine. Thursday my more-optimistic half reminded me of our first night of practicing “gratitudes,” as she refers to them, a bedtime reminder of the good things in our lives. Entrenched in our security blankets, I rolled my eyes and just generally imitated Andy from “Wet Hot American Summer” as I lurched about, painfully attempting to conjure even one good thought. How could I possibly think of three? Yet three was the number she demanded, and so I started with one.
I won’t bore you with the tedium of things I’m thankful for on a daily or weekly basis, which often include the CDs I received in the mail that day, a particularly tasty Al Pastor Burrito from Robo Taco, or the poignant passage of Michael Chabon’s “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” I just read. Still, I have gratitudes to offer, and I invite you to read them and offer your own in the comments below. If you’re like me, and painfully aware of all the things wrong with humanity, I give you permission to enjoy a reprieve from the agonizing self-evaluation and celebrate three aspects of your life that make it worth living despite the decay of civilization.
Here are mine:
1) My friends: You know who you are, and what you’ve done. You are my family, my fellow Octave Doctors, my wife, my “dogs,” my Fat Pack, my coworkers, my support network. You are the people whom I love and the people who love me. You’re even the people who aren’t quite sure how you feel about me but continue to pick-up when I call or show-up when my invitation to revelry beckons. Without you – who continue to make me laugh, who have kids I can play with (thereby forestalling my need to have kids of my own), who make sure I don’t totally devolve into hedonistic savagery, and who make sure I get just enough hedonistic savagery to prevent total implosion – life would be emptier than the head of your average TV news anchor.
2) Music: A life without a soundtrack isn’t a life worth living. Much like the kisses of Lord Crowley Underfoote that I receive each morning when I awake, the music I listen to while I shower, while I drive, while I work, and while I unwind at the end of the day keeps me sane. It recasts the events of the day in a cinematic montage, and kills any sense of isolation or hopelessness for the human race to which I might be prone. Music brings us together. It reminds me that there are those out there dedicated to its creation and its consumption amid the pressures to produce, achieve, and destroy. Along with storytelling in all its various written and visual forms, it offers the most convincing evidence I’ve experienced that there’s something at play in the universe beyond that which we can observe, measure, and control.
3) Orifices/Appendages: For as long as we have them, we can speak our minds and listen to the thoughts of others. We can taste and smell and touch and love. We can drink and make merry, abstain and focus our perceptions into a laser beam, or ingest and splinter our consciousness into fractals that allow us to see tentacles rising just on the other side of the horizon. Do what you will with your holes and probes, but pause to be thankful and aware of the joy and connection and risk and reward inherent in your explorations. Whatever senses you possess are goddamn treasures beyond reckoning, and I intend to make the most of mine as long as they fight off my best attempts to dull them.
Thanks, universe, for these truly awesome gifts, and thank you, readers of From The Void, for being patient while I found time to write again after re-entering the world of working folks (and thanks for the job, M.A.R.S Industries). Thank you for continuing to indulge my wacky waxings – and wanings. Whatever Thanksgiving means to you, I salute it. Unless it’s simply an awkward prelude to the biggest shopping day of the year. Discount tube socks can wait.