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Nothing to give thanks for this Thanksgiving? A cynic’s guide to gratitude

President Donald Trump made Neil Steinberg's list of things to be grateful for two times, and that doesn't even count pardoning turkeys. Trump is shown here with one of the two turkeys he pardoned Tuesday in what has become a Thanksgiving tradition for presidents. This year's turkeys were named Peas and Carrots; Peas is shown. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

Thursday is Thanksgiving, the gateway holiday. A big happy — well, not always so happy — family meal that lures us toward the thornier challenges of Christmas (all those gifts) and New Year’s (all those resolutions).

It’s called “Thanksgiving” because you’re supposed to give thanks, it’s right there in the name: Thanksgiving. We should be giving thanks and – bulletin! — while we certainly live in a challenging time, with imbeciles running the country and heavily-armed lunatics seeming to lurk around every corner, there is still much to be grateful for. Just in case specifics don’t leap to mind, I’ll help with a short and by no means comprehensive list:

1. You’re alive. Most people are dead — more than 100 billion, according to demographers. Compared to 7.5 billion who are enjoying this brief flash between two very long, very cold eternities. Be grateful to be here; not everyone is, and you won’t always be either.

2. You’re in the United States. Sure, we’re in the grip of a would-be tyrant, the most flawed, toxic buffoon to ever occupy the Oval Office. But our institutions are still strong. The voters gave a vigorous thumbs-down a few weeks ago. We ate a bad clam, politically. It feels horrible, but our system is purging the poison.


3. The first two reasons for gratitude are true in part because of an enormous network of selfless Americans dedicating their lives to you: soldiers at distant military bases, sailors on the high seas, police officers in tough neighborhoods, doctors up to their elbows in gore at busy ERs. If you can’t be thankful for your own botch of an existence, at least be thankful for them. And remember: there are households right now in Chicago swathed in grief, after the Mercy Hospital shootings and countless other tragedies that never make the papers. If you aren’t among that group, be grateful, and if you are, sincere condolences and wishes for strength. Time heals.

4. Give thanks for Donald Trump. Sincerely. He is the X-ray of a tumor. You can curse the X-ray. Or you get busy getting well. Racism, sexism, xenophobia, conspiracy theory wackadoodlism — Trump didn’t invent any of it. Rather, he reflects it, casting a klieg light on America’s problems while gumming our cherished institutions, so far. Give thanks for that.

5. Not everything Trump has done is stupid. Even a dumpster fire gives warmth, and Trump, for instance, last week floated a very sensible plan to dial back the insane punitiveness of our penal system. That’s something to be grateful for.

6. Bruce Rauner is going away. Illinois spent four years listening to the vinegary pronouncements of a gimlet-eyed moneybags with nine houses and a heart the size of a gumball. Now he’s been given the bum’s rush, to join Peter Fitzgerald and Jim Oberweis and all the other charmed fat cats who fancied politics would be the cherry on their sundae of cash-stoked self-regard. Buh-bye!

7. Food on the table. Thanksgiving was originally a celebration of our bounty, a fact that gets lost, well, because we have so much bounty. Plug “Famine in Yemen” into Google, click on “images,” and then give thanks.
8. Family. Sure, they’re loud and annoying. But guess what? So are you, in their eyes. That relative you only see once a year? Remember, he’s perfectly content to see you once a year. Family isn’t a flaw, it’s a feature. You should be used to them by now, you’ve been dealing with them long enough. And they with you.

9. Anything else you feel like being grateful for. You get to decide what makes life worth living. I’m grateful for my wife and sons — both boys kicking ass in their first year of law school (“Isn’t it supposed to be hard?” I said, bewildered at their nonchalance. “Are you sure you signed up for all your classes? You didn’t miss one?”). I’m grateful for our dog, and having a satisfying job that touches so many people’s lives.

You get the idea. There is no one in so dire a strait they can’t manage to be thankful for something. I once interviewed a man who had set himself on fire, accidentally, and burned his fingers off. He was a golfer, and discovered that he could hold the club between what remained of his hands. He was thankful for that. If he can manage gratitude, so can you. Happy Thanksgiving.