Attitudes of Gratitude
Kurt Vonnegut once opined, “I can think of no more stirring symbol of man’s humanity to man than a fire engine.” Asked for the earliest sign of civilization, Margaret Mead pointed to an ancient human femur, broken and healed.
The femur is the body’s largest bone, and the fact that this one had healed meant that someone had fed and protected the owner, at personal cost, in a hostile world. As we are reminded each time we hear a siren in the night, the fire engine is a machine designed to take people into a scene that most sane people would be fleeing.
Of course, not everyone has the wit and wisdom of a writer like Vonnegut or an anthropologist like Mead. As Thanksgiving approaches, it’s a good idea to think of a few things that make you feel grateful, just in case someone at the table suggests a round of such sentiments as an adjunct to saying grace.
I have a couple of suggestions that might not make everyone’s top five list as Thanksgiving blessings.
First (and perhaps most puzzling): Thanks for lawyers. No profession does as much good while bearing the weight of as much cultural mockery and caricature. Simply living in a civilized world grows more complicated every year, and when something goes wrong in civic life (or in our personal lives), it often takes a specialist to remedy matters. Lawyers have often been at the forefront of social transformation and reconciliation, but just as often they play the role of the clean-up crew, following the civic circus parade and dealing with the mess left after the donkeys, elephants and floats have passed by.
The list of Best Lawyers that appears in this issue might not make for good reading in your easy chair, but just scanning the number of disciplines of law and the rich variety of expertise on hand in the Granite State can be heartening if you expect to ever need some help with contracts, wills, accidents or purposeful harms you’ve endured.
Philosopher of humor Jerry Seinfeld once said, “To me, a lawyer is basically the person that knows the rules of the country. We’re all throwing the dice, playing the game, moving our pieces around the board, but if there’s a problem, the lawyer is the only person that has read the inside of the top of the box.”
My next suggestion is likely to be even more of a groaner to those gathered around the Thanksgiving table — should you choose to repeat it: Thanks for politicians.
OK, stop groaning. What politicians do for us is not unlike what lawyers do. Every election is like a court case where people on either side of an issue have a stake.
Unlike physicians or safety services, the realm of lawyers and politicians is adversarial. Rather than heroism in which one sacrifices and another benefits, lawyers and politicians both fight in a court of law or a court of public opinion to determine what is right. Both also fail quite frequently, but that’s the nature of human progress. No matter how adamant we might be in our beliefs, the best course for a society or a country cannot be determined any better way. The politicians (often with law degrees) represent those sides, argue the case before the jury (i.e., the electorate) and work toward a decision. The “judge” in this scenario is the people who actually vote.
So, on that note, another, easier to swallow, Thanksgiving blessing suggestion: Thanks for election workers. This noble task has come under increasing fire as a result of the past few elections in which so much of what we once took for granted has been sullied, blurred and distorted in the heat of political battle. But every time I go to my polling place and witness the orderly and peaceful collections of petitions for change, I feel reassured.
And this brings me to my last Thanksgiving table prayer of gratitude. Thanks for voters — hopefully you. It’s your conviction that voting matters — in spite of all the naysaying — that keeps this whole country working.