“Facing mortality is only one of the gifts I am thankful for this pandemic season. Another is lockdown.”
With Thanksgiving only a few days away, I thought it wise to talk about what I’m thankful for this season. So, let’s see … lovers, friends, family, kids, creativity, dog (definitely dog), mom, sister ... Okay, that’s it. So, what have we learned? Only one thing: I can be as trite as any New Age wordsmith. But that is not something I’m grateful for. So, let me try again.
Over a quarter-million Americans are dead from COVID–19. One of them being my aunt, another the aunt of a dear friend. Of course, I’m not thankful for these deaths, but I am grateful that television news shows and their running tally of the dead keep me focused on the fragility of life.
Facing mortality is only one of the gifts I am thankful for this pandemic season. Another is lockdown.
Let me be clear: I am a privileged white guy who has been a road warrior for 40 years: First as a business consultant to Fortune 500 companies and then as an itinerant rabbi and stand-up theologian. In the beginning, I loved life on the road: I stayed in good hotels in exciting cities, and in lovely retreat centers remote from everything except the human ego. And even decades later as my travels turned into a global grind, I convinced myself that it was still enjoyable, but when COVID took away my livelihood I realized I didn’t like it all that much after all. It turns out I was tired of airports, airplanes, dinners with strangers who insisted I be more spiritual than I am, and selling books—albeit books of which I continue to be proud—to people who need to read less and sit in silence more.
My lockdown set me free. I could spend my day meditating before dawn, walking for miles at dawn, writing all morning, reading all afternoon, riding my bicycle an hour before dusk, and then binge-watching my favorite television shows until I fall asleep on the couch. And I could do all this without even a twinge of guilt. Of course, this freedom came at the cost of an income, but I still write, and people still pay me for some of what I write, so if I simply stop buying what I want and focus on purchasing what I need—broadly defined to include some of what I want—I’m fine.
I’m also fine with the death of liberal democracy. I don’t blame COVID for that. I don’t even blame Donald Trump for that. Trump, Putin, Orbán, Erdogan, Xi, Ang Sung Su Ki, and so many others are part of another global pandemic: The pandemic of authoritarianism and the human desire to escape from freedom. Here in the United States, I blame my fellow Americans for that. And I’m thankful to them for showing me how American democracy ends: not with a bang but with a whimpering authoritarian leader and his tens of millions of angry, fear-filled, grievance addicted fans fueled by lies and falsehoods both political and religious.
Sure, there are tens of millions more Americans who don’t identify with those in love with all things maskless, factless, Orange and Q, but they are no less trapped in their own brand of identity politics. Democracy requires a higher unity and we have abandoned that unity for self-righteous, color-coded tribal divisions. I listen to the news, shake my head, wash my hands, and congratulate myself for turning my indifference into a high spiritual art: The conceit of the faux mystic.
I’m thankful for the end of liberal democracy and the illusion of American exceptionalism. It is another weight lifted from me. Along with saving Earth.
It turns out Earth is going to be just fine. Sure, she is going to wipe out most humans with raging fires, rising seas, and one pandemic after another as prehistoric diseases are liberated from their melting permafrost prisons, but that too is our fault. No use getting upset over something we decided to do nothing about. Nothing, that is other than haranguing one another over doing nothing about it. Don’t get me wrong, I love the likes of Greta Thunberg, but “Okay Boomer” isn’t much of a climate strategy. The future of Earth’s thriving will depend on freeing herself from the kudzu that is humanity, and we can witness that happening all around us.
So, let’s see. I’m thankful for friends, family, my dog and dogs in general, COVID, American authoritarianism, the collapse of liberal democracy, and the end of human domination of planet Earth. There may be more things that I am grateful for but which escape me at the moment, but this is enough.
As you travel this Thanksgiving (which you shouldn’t) and sit down to dinner with friends and family (which you shouldn’t) and eat meat (which you shouldn’t) and avoid the fact the Pilgrim’s Thanksgiving set off the genocidal slaughter of America’s indigenous peoples by watching A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, take a close and open-hearted look at your loved ones and quietly note that you may never see them again.
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