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Pondering what to be thankful for in the year 2020, by John McGauley

This will be a shorter-than-usual column, and perhaps you’ll understand why.

Thanksgiving 2020.

Sounds kind of weird now, incongruous considering all that’s occurred. We’ve been sickened and many have died from a pandemic. We’ve been cleaved by political divisions.

Family get-togethers will be more modest affairs because of the lockdowns and restrictions imposed among the states. The toasts will be shorter, the turkeys smaller. Many will dine alone.

Things might get better. But as I write this, the situation could get worse on both fronts, many more will fall ill or even die before a much-hoped-for, effective vaccine arrives in the kind of numbers that make a difference. Political fault lines could stiffen even more before Christmas and the New Year.

People are crabbier, drivers more belligerent, shoppers in grocery stores seldom stop to chat, exacerbated by the fact it’s hard to recognize friends and neighbors due to the masks. All the Christmas regalia is packed into the stores, but somehow the festive lights, trees, wreaths and tinsel seem a little out of place. When they start piping in the old Bing Crosby holiday tunes, I don’t know how I’ll feel.

I’ve struggled to write a column that isn’t all doom and gloom, and frankly, it’s been very difficult. But here’s a few consoling thoughts to ponder these days before Thanksgiving.

We’re pretty resilient folk, for the most part. It’s been bumpy but many have been going about their jobs in yeomanlike fashion. The employees at clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, dental offices are soldiering on. The home-healthcare nurses are hard at work, tending to the sick. Utility crews labor diligently in the cold outdoors, the newspaper is still published, grocery stores are filled with food. This week I happened to see an armada of UPS trucks leaving their Keene terminal and it seemed a metaphor for hope, representing to me that Americans do — in an emergency — pull it together. Perhaps we grouse and gripe all the way — we’re a cantankerous, mouthy, opinionated bunch — but we put our shoulders to the wheel when we finally realize there’s an emergency at hand; we naturally form a pretty good bucket brigade.

Maybe there’s something to that old expression that it’s darkest just before the dawn. Perhaps when people sit down to their Thanksgiving meal — modest as it might be this year — they’ll say a prayer and hope for the best. Hope is the salve that makes life tolerable, the candle in the window on a dark, windy, frigid night, soothing to the frayed nerves as you approach home, weary and sad. I think we’ll be seeing many candles in windows this year.

I’ll end sounding like maybe I write cards for Hallmark. A mask can’t hide a smile, all expressions are conveyed through the eyes anyway. Let the other guy get that open parking space at the grocery store. Don’t feel it’s always necessary to expound upon the self-proclaimed righteousness of your political opinion. Call that lonely old lady down the street — the one you don’t necessarily like — and ask if she needs anything when you’re going to the store.

You don’t have to turn into a relentless, Positive Polly — no one likes those people — but just crowbar your actions into a semblance of kindness and cheer, even if you don’t really feel it deep down inside. Light that candle in your soul.

John McGauley, an author and local radio talk-show host, writes from Keene. He can be contacted at mcgauleyink@gmail.com

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