Time can feel like a really annoying person in my life, always tapping me on the shoulder, saying, “Hey, don’t forget about me.” Now, every holiday arrives with an “it’s already here?” It seems the calendar is on a downslope, with days rolling fast. And here’s another Thanksgiving speeding by this week.

On Friday, the pressure officially begins to make a material show of importance to those we love at Christmas. At Thanksgiving, we feel no such pressure. We just get together to talk and eat.

Of course, a Christmas morning with children is a joy, especially when they’re young. But I find the overall season stressful, too. I can be kind of a Grinch in that way, I guess. If you ever ask me if I’ve got my shopping done, the answer is, well, no. And the yearly procrastination turns into the feel of another deadline. Yeah, as a newspaperman, I live with deadlines. Doesn’t mean I enjoy them though. And if you ask why I procrastinate on shopping, the answer is, I don’t fully know. It just seems to happen. Maybe some of you are like this. Maybe you’re in the house with someone like this. I also procrastinate on putting the tree up once Christmas has passed.

That’s partly why I like Thanksgiving best as a holiday. It seems almost solely tied to company and reflection. As we age, material trinkets take their rightful place behind such silent observations about the lesser importance of “stuff” and all the values that don’t have anything to do with wrapping paper.

But gift-purchasing avoidance isn’t the only reason I like Thanksgiving best. There’s so much in the world that troubles me these days that I find myself trying to hold my own inner Thanksgivings out of season. I think of the term as a lower-case verb and a challenge, not just a holiday, as in “thanksgiving.” Can I do it? Can I be thankful? Can I see what ought to be seen in its proper context, which is at the heart of any gratitude?

Man, that’s hard, isn’t it? It’s hard to be thankful when you’re angry about things. And there’s cause for anger all around. Maybe we share the same anger, or maybe we butt heads because we’re angry over opposites, which creates more anger.

I guess I’ll share my primary anger, because that sets up my main source of gratefulness, too.

My main rage these days is when I observe joyful malice, which seems in abundant supply.

I get the impression that many people really get off on seeing others hurt or humiliated. It seems like there’s real joy for many in cruelty for no reason. The internet has brought this aspect of humanity to our lives in a more prominent way, where the greatest solidarity is in the humor and comfort found between like-minded people when their enemies “get what’s coming,” warranted or not.

I don’t think I’m being naive or overly sensitive to mourn our coarsening of culture. I don’t like the zero-sum aspect of culture war, as if there’s always got to be a winner and a loser. No, sometimes everyone can be the loser. Even “the winner” can lose in a deep way morally. This is exhausting and ultimately undignified for all. I’m not talking about specific politics here. Policies deserve real debate. I’m talking about the spirit behind it all, the scale of benevolence versus malevolence. And that scale is far out of whack. Do you see this, too?

So, increasingly, my gratitude in life is for everyone who sees this problem and who actively fights the vortex of cruelty that pulls on our country by trying to tip the scale toward benevolence and care, not malice and destruction.

We see this benevolence around us, too, if we look, all the folks working to help others, trying to pull people up, not tear them down. We tend to view everything at the large, national scale as “the others” or “them,” and increasingly, this distinction between “us” and “them” overshadows local connections across communities. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

And I’m really grateful for all of you in this county who do things that tip the scales back to a better spirit, whether it’s just in the tight circle of your family or the broader circle of your community. Every bit of kindness has good in it.

We’re all here for a brief time. And it seems like a waste to spend it barking at each other, instead of helping each other. I’m glad when I see people doing this, and I’m grateful for the times I get to report on such examples in this county.

This is the kind of thing I’ll be thinking as I drift off to sleep Thursday afternoon, stunned with too much food.

This is the gratitude I want to hold onto as time — and holidays — roll by. Appreciate the time you spent reading this.

Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal. He can be reached at zach@mainstreetnews.com.

(1) comment

Virginia Moss

"Joyful malice", that captures so much of it. I'm putting that together with "willful ignorance" to sum up our current culture wars.

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