This year we’ve instituted what seems likely to become a yearly tradition of a Thanksgiving tree. It’s taped on the wall of our front stairs, trunk and branches made out of brown paper. Each day, on construction paper leaves of brown, orange, yellow, red, and the occasional stubborn green, each member of the family puts down something they are thankful (or in the case of the two year old “thanksome”) for.
Think of it as the back-to-low-tech version of the social media 30 days of gratitude.
The difference between ages six and two shines through gloriously in my children’s leaves. The two year old’s are wondrously direct and concrete—apples, paint, owls. (With one sort of astonishing exception for “that I am healthy.”) The six year old is, explicitly, joyously, all about big abstract concepts—love, my awesome family, peace, nature. (With one amusing exception for “pumpkins”!)
I think their examples are good for us, as the adults in my family veer back and forth between the two approaches, being thankful one day for the right to vote, and the next for autumn breezes, one day for health insurance, and the next for the feeling of riding a bike.
This election brought a lot of hope. Voters rejected a fear-driven, failed-trickle-down, insular vision of the nation on a wide range of fronts. As Alan Jenkins of the Opportunity Agenda wrote on my organization’s blog, “Mitt Romney and friends were defeated not so much by changing American demographics as by a coalescing of American values in an increasingly multicultural nation.”
There are other signs of hope. Wal-Mart workers are striking on Black Friday, an incredibly powerful and courageous act against the biggest welfare recipients in the country. Occupy is getting creative with the Rolling Jubilee, an attempt to buy securitized debt and cancel it rather than collect on it.
And yet, the president so many of us are so relieved to have back in the White House is still ordering drone strikes that are killing civilians. Israel and Palestine are at each other’s throats again, in horrific fashion. And many parts of the New York City-NJ metro area are still suffering the effects of Hurricane Sandy, dealing with curfews, isolation, cold, hunger, displacement, and the knowledge that we still don’t actually have the systems in place to respond to disaster of that scale.
Nothing comes easy, and right now, I could believe in our eventual ability, with hard work, organizing, and sacrifice, to find solutions to all of those things. But of course with thinking about Superstorm Sandy comes thinking about climate change. On the one hand, part of the hopefulness comes from the fact that the climate silence is being broken. From Gov. Cuomo to the president, from BusinessWeek to The New York Times, it has finally become a topic we can’t ignore.
That’s heartening, but of course it comes with grappling with knowing that if we fail to change course we’re on track for 6 degrees average warming—a catastrophic, change-life-as-we-know-it difference. I’m an incrementalist at heart—I believe in slow and steady improvement, process as important as product, practical and tangible reforms, meeting people where they are, and needing to fail a few times before you succeed. Radical changes do happen along the way, and need to, but the idea of a challenge we can’t afford to fail on is still hard to wrap my brain around.
I find myself handling it, much like someone battling a disease that might kill them, by simultaneously trying to figure out what more I can do that would be meaningful and finding myself full of heightened appreciation and fondness for everything and everyone around me, here in the present. It’s a bit hokey, but there you have it.
Time was in my 20s I would have turned up my nose at my neighbor wasting water on washing her over-large car yet again, sending suds down the storm drain and covering up the dirtiness of our reliance on internal combustion with a shiny ride. I noticed this week that instead I was just wanting to give her a hug and join her in wishing that her kids and grandkids will be able to live in a better world, one where they can ride shoulder to shoulder with mine on a bus or a bike path, not where they will be squaring off for survival in a landscape I wouldn’t even recognize.
I’m not alone in caring, and this year that will be the thing I am most thankful for.