December 23, 2021

That Elusive Christmas Spirit

If we count our blessings as carefully as we tabulate our grievances, life would be a lot happier.

Having trouble getting into the Christmas spirit this year? I am.

We can blame it on COVID — that seems to be the universal excuse for every unhappy thing that happens these days. It’s legit. I for one turn grumpy the instant I put on a mask — a Pavlovian response, two years in the making.

There are plenty of other things to be grumpy about this year, and we seem to get better and better at broadcasting our grumpiness via wall-to-wall media hype of issues like inflation, climate change, racism, illegal immigration, education, income inequality, etc. Sourpuss news always sells.

So, how do we dig out of our 2021 grand funk and rekindle the real Christmas spirit?

This may seem a bit hackneyed, but the old remedy touted by our grandmothers — along with Hallmark, Dr. Seuss, our first-grade teacher, and legions of other life advisers — still has merit: just count our blessings.

What’s more, if we could find a way to be as proficient in counting blessings as we are in tabulating our grievances, we’d all be in a better place. That won’t make the serious issues go away, but it can surely help us deal with them.

And when it comes to counting blessings, we Americans need a calculator to total up all of those showered on us by the spectacular good fortune of being citizens of this great country.

We live in the land of opportunity, the richest nation on earth. Our economy bounces up and down, purchasing power improves and then declines, jobs come and go. But opportunity always comes knocking for any willing to open the door.

We must not forget that America is more bountiful for some than for others and that some Americans will always have difficulty in finding the help they need. We argue among ourselves about the best way to make that help available — the spending bill being debated in Congress is a prime example — but there should be little doubt about Americans’ collective resolve to help those in need.

We live in the land of the free. I believe that the rancor about vaccine mandates is high on our radar screens because freedom is so central to everyday life in America. My guess is that citizens of China or Russia don’t bother to object when their governments tell them to mask up or lock down or get vaccinated, because those governments already control every aspect of their lives. Ours doesn’t.

In this nation, we control our own destiny through our votes. There is serious debate right now about how to learn from the 2020 election and restore voter trust. But there is no question that the 2020 election led to a dramatic, voter-driven change in direction. And if it turns out that the nation doesn’t like that new tack, we can be sure that it will be reversed in upcoming elections.

We are the home of the brave. America’s first responders step up in any emergency, natural or man-made. Who can ever forget the 415 firefighters, police, and other emergency workers who lost their lives on 9/11? The police officers who wade into dangerous territory night after night, protecting the vulnerable? Or our medical professionals and caregivers, working tirelessly to help COVID patients, while exposing themselves to its dangers?

And never forget the immeasurable contribution our U.S. Armed Forces make 24/7/365. This past weekend, my wife Peggy and I had the good fortune to attend the U.S. Navy Band Christmas Concert in Washington, DC. Interspersed with the great music were media images of Navy personnel from around the world — young faces that said it all: upbeat, on purpose, volunteers ready for any challenge, whenever and wherever it crops up.

It’s easy for us to lose sight of the sacrifices they make on our behalf. But if you need a reminder, just watch (and try to hold back your tears) a video of a young sailor reuniting with loved ones after a long and arduous deployment, holding for the first time the baby whose birth he’d missed while in our service far from home. It’s an oft-repeated image in military life.

We can argue about how best to address our country’s imperfections. That’s a good thing, as long as we commit to working together to do so. Unity, however elusive, is a must.

But there is simply too much good in this great country to allow ourselves to be consumed by its flaws. This Christmas, let’s celebrate the good.

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