2020 and thankfulness

Each year I try to do a Thanksgiving post, and talk about what I’m thankful for. As I stare back on the train wreck that was 2020, doing that seems like a tall order. I think instead of trying to list off all of the things I’m thankful for, I’d rather talk about the act of being thankful in a year like this, and what that really means. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very thankful for my family, job, health, and general well-being. But, when I look back at the year that was, all of my thankfulness is wrapped in selfishness. But that’s kinda what it always seems to be about.

When we go through stressful times, we turn to survival instinct. We do what we can to protect that which we have, so that we can live another day. Many people have fared far worse that I have in 2020, and many people didn’t survive this year. Yet, there’s this expectation that we turn to thankfulness and “count our blessings” and be happy for what we came out of the year with. There’s a mandated sense of contentment in how we view thankfulness. Don’t look at the bad, focus on the good, even when it’s hard to find. We tell ourselves that we have a lot to be thankful for, and we certainly do. But this is what I mean when I talk about “Thanksgiving thankfulness” being selfish.

Then along comes a year like 2020. Global pandemic, racial justice reckonings, economic hardship, political strife… you name it, this year had all the big ticket items. As a student of history, watching so much of society being threatened by both intentional acts and random happenstance at the same time, is hard. This year, I don’t think it’s enough to be OK with “Thanksgiving thankfulness”. I think we need to go further.

When I was a believer, I would say that I’m thankful that Jesus is Lord. Now that I no longer count myself among them, I would reframe that to say that I’m thankful that humanity still strives for goodness more than it strives for evil. That’s where I want to start my notion of thankfulness for this year. Not with a selfish desire to look at what I have, but to look at the broader world and declare thankfulness for things that go beyond me, and my small sphere of experience.

So for 2020, I would say:

  • I’m thankful that our world has educated and intelligent people in it that seek to help their fellow humans with science and research.
  • I’m thankful that even as America’s political disaster plays out on a global stage, the broad swath of humanity still manages to grow, adapt, and bring us forward as a species.
  • I’m thankful that there are still people willing to take a stand for what is right, and hold fast to the belief that every human being deserves a chance at a full life.
  • I’m thankful that we continue, as a species, to move in a positive direction around how we interact with nature. We’re facing the repercussions of centuries of neglect, but by and large, our species is trying to do better about living in harmony with our planet.
  • I’m thankful that despite everything that went wrong in 2020, and all of the harm that we will be rebuilding from in the future, we still have an opportunity to treat people with compassion, with every interaction we have.

I realize that this might seem like high and lofty tripe, but this year, I just can’t be content being personally selfish in my thankfulness. So much in our world is wrong, and it threatens our ability to exist. But yet, in spite of 2020, we’re still here. For that, I am thankful.


Beer, running, and geeky things.

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