Like many of us at this time of year, I am looking at my life and thinking how incredibly thankful I am for all the good things I have: a beautiful, brilliant, humane, and loving wife; a fantastic, interesting, and caring son and daughter; the two best grandchildren the world has ever seen; a teaching position I absolutely love and thrive on; chances to do what I really want to do with my so-called free time – reading and writing; good health; good friends who, like me, love good food, good drink, and good conversation about important things; and, well, lots of other things.
When I first became an agnostic, I had a problem with thankfulness. I felt very thankful (though, frankly, times were hard: divorce, money issues, familial and life uncertainties) . But it seemed weird to feel thankful. I had always thought of thankfulness to be something you have *toward* somebody. When you say thank you, you say thank you precisely to someone. But who was I to thank for the good things in life, when I didn’t believe there was anyone UP there who had been good to me, to whom to be thankful? It was a strange feeling.
But I came to realize that one can be grateful for all the good things, even if there’s not a person to thank. A sense of wonder at the universe and a sense that some things are very, very good and need to be cherished does not require the belief in a personal God who is in charge of the world.
I think that if everyone on the planet enjoyed their lives, and had as much to be thankful for as I do, that I probably would still be a believer. It’s the fact that life is so hard for so many people, and is absolutely unbearable for so many others, that makes me doubt the existence of anything like a personal deity. And amidst all my thankfulness, which is genuine, there is a sense of real sadness about the world.
In some ways this has been a very hard year. Not for me personally (I haven’t been killed or injured lately, or had to scrounge for the next meal, or been diagnosed yet with some dread disease). But for lots of other loved ones in my life. There have been some very sad and even agonizing times. The untimely death of my closest friend on the faculty of my university, who left behind a beautiful wife of two years, who was eight-months pregnant; the suicide of a young person close to me and my wife; the crises of aging parents; a debilitating stroke leaving a loved one partially paralyzed and unable to speak (for life); a divorce of dear loved ones; a friend diagnosed with brain cancer; another with lymphoma. All this just in the past few months And all of these are people who, like me, are otherwise “privileged.” I obviously have not even begun to mention the suffering in extremis in the world outside my little sheltered bit of it: victims of war, sexual assault, starvation, epidemic, birth defects, and on and on and on.
The hardship others face has become clear to me over the past week, as I have requested notes from people who want to be on the Blog and are unable to afford it. I asked anyone in that boat to give me a brief sense of why they needed the free subscription – not to pry, but simply to give me a sense of how to prioritize those who really needed the freebie and who simply wanted to be given one. I’ve learned some very hard stories. People trying to feed a family after becoming unemployed, with no immediate prospects of getting a job; people with terminal illnesses now in advanced stages, looking forward to physical misery and loved ones who will be left behind with little or nothing; people living in overseas situations of poverty (accessing the Internet, on occasion, at a work place or public facility). These are people who wanted a gift membership, and we — those of you who have donated — have made it possible.
This current post is obviously very black and white, matching my mood and the realities of our world and situation, the best of times and the worst of times. I am especially heartened by the fact that those of us who have good lives can help those who do not. We are doing real good on this Blog. Not only are we engaged in learning important information about a subject we consider to be of supreme importance, historically and culturally and personally, but we are doing so in a way that raises funds for what is really significant, helping those who are in dire need of food and homes.
Many thanks to all who have donated to the blog – especially during this recent effort to provide free memberships . There are still several people who would like to be given a one-year subscription. Let me know if you can help out by contributing one or more.
Whether you can or not, I hope you can join me in being thankful for what we have and hopeful and helpful for those in need!