Each year about this time, I take a few minutes to remind myself of the sorts of things for which I’m thankful. On the simple end are toys such as DVDs and telephones we carry in our pockets that can, if their owners wish, play movies or simply, in the case of my grandkids, affirm connections to friends with whom they have not spoken in four or five minutes.
When I was 12, I had thousands of acres of woods in which to roam, and streams and a big lake in which to swim and slake my thirst. All of it was not ours, but property boundaries were not strictly enforced in those days. The 513-acre pond was home to three pair of loons, a couple beaver families, a family of moose and several species of fish.
A half-century later, there still are many thousands of acres in which the current generation of 12-year-olds can roam, though precious few of them do. We complain about our schools, but we more severely shortchange our offspring when we shield them too well from their environment. Still, I hold abiding hope that there will be sufficient numbers of them who will experience the wilderness or read in books about what used to be, and ask what they can do to keep it or get it back. I can promise from experience that keeping it will be easier than getting it back.
I continue to be puzzled, though, by the politicians who cry out for job creation, then cut funding for the one thing that always has made this nation great: research into new technologies that can preserve and enhance our lives. I also am puzzled by politicians who decry large cups of soda, but cut funding for programs that will get kids out of the house, into the environs of fresh air and exercise.
On the other hand, I’m thankful to live in a nation where the majority of the people can decide – or not – the direction their nation will take the next few years. Even staying home on Election Day is a choice of sorts. One thing I know from decades as a journalist is that no candidate knows how hard the job he seeks will be until he actually sits behind the desk. I hope President Obama is able build on what he has learned about being president. And because a leader is only as good as his followers, I hope we pick up our own oars and help row.
I am also thankful to live where Fox and MSNBC can shoot verbal arrows at each other without the rest of us thinking we have to kill 14-year-old girls for no more sufficient reason than they want to go to school. I have a granddaughter about to head off to college, another just turned 14, and a third closing in on teen-dom faster than her mom would like to acknowledge. I am thankful I cannot fully understand the state of mind of a parent or grandparent of someone who some misguided soul has bathed in acid for the dual offenses of being a girl in pursuit of education.
Instances such as those should serve as reminders that there are nations in which disagreement, especially with government policies, can lead to a permanent revocation of ability to think at all. I am thankful I don’t live there.
I have long held the principle that books can tell us everything that is known and take us places we otherwise might never have opportunity to visit. Now most of us hold in our hands tiny devices capable of transporting us into the virtual pages of a “Never Ending Story,” where nearly anything is possible for those who dare to dream it.
Most of what we today take for granted has been created by those of us too young at the time to realize the dangers of failure. That ignorance allowed them to take risks to invent new systems, rocket us into space, and create new modes of surface-bound transportation. Their offspring will be the ones to figure out how to keep our planet from roasting us where we sit.
Times change. I wish I could be here to see the changes 60 years hence. What a Thanksgiving letter that would make – but I’ll settle for as many more as I am allowed.
I marked my 65th birthday last month, four years more than my dad had aboard this planet. I write now, sometimes about our past, sometimes about our future. I am paid to think, and I am thankful there are people who think what I think is worth thinking.
And I’m thankful that some of them will be sitting at my dinner table Thursday afternoon.
Photo by Derek K. Miller
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