A little thankfulness

English: Cornucopia
English: Cornucopia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My Thanksgiving starts, as it’s done for nine years, with the Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Prayer Service — this year at the Buddhist Church. (Past services have been at churches, synagogues and last year the Mormon Stakehouse; it’s a learning experience and a lovely one.) And because thankfulness is indeed good for the soul, here are just a few of the things I’m thankful for… or not:

While the remarkable folks at places like St. Anthony’s continue to feed the hungry, Thanksgiving Day and every day, for which we can all be thankful, it’s hard to be thankful for Congressional Republicans who voted earlier this year to cut some $40 billion out of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, which millions of Americans count on just to have enough to eat every day. But I’m thankful to live in a democracy and hopeful that a focus on the common good will eventually prevail over today’s focus on the one percent.

I am thankful for the slow but steady progress of the cause of death with dignity in this country. And that is thanks largely to Compassion & Choices, a fine organization if there ever were one. I’m not just thankful, but proud to have worked long and hard as a C&C volunteer for more than a decade.

Closer to my heart today is the cause of reproductive rights, partly because those rights are being relentlessly eroded. I remember so vividly what it was like to be a woman without such rights that it leaves me thankful beyond measure for those working so hard to protect them. People like –

Cecile Richards and everyone else connected with Planned Parenthood. Vilified because abortions are provided at some clinics (a tiny percentage of the services offered,) Planned Parenthood is now defending those who need insurance coverage for contraception. “Put simply, birth control is basic, preventive health care that millions of women rely on every day,” Richards wrote in a recent email. “Over 99 percent of sexually active women use birth control at some point in their lives, for a wide variety of reasons. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies are now required to cover contraception with no out-of-pocket cost, a landmark step for women’s health that gives many women access to affordable birth control for the first time. (But) now a handful of out-of-touch, mostly male employers want to take that coverage away — and force their own beliefs onto tens of thousands of employees…”

In other words, a fertilized egg must be protected at all costs… including the cost of women’s health? Go figure. It’s headed to the Supreme Court, and reason, sanity and women’s health are likely to lose. So I’m thankful that Planned Parenthood is here at least to fight the battle.

Or others, like –

Catholics for Choice President Jon O’Brien, whose recent letter to the New York Times pointed out one simple, obvious truth: “Catholics in the United States have abortions and support access to abortion services at the same rate as other women do.”  Many of my Catholic friends are weary of themselves being vilified for a belief they do not hold — just because church officialdom insists on valuing their fertilized eggs more than themselves.

The Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Prayer Service always includes a reading of President Abraham Lincoln’s (somewhat tedious) proclamation of a national day of Thanksgiving, urging us all to be grateful for our multiple blessings “with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience.” Some things haven’t changed in the past century or so. But listening quietly to the historic proclamation, surrounded by a bunch of Americans of every imaginable race, creed and political persuasion, somehow makes one hopeful that human rights of all sorts — daily bread and individual choice to name a couple — will eventually win out.

And that’s something to be thankful for.

Obsessives… and the rest of us

Melvil Dewey's Decimal System
Melvil Dewey’s Decimal System (Photo credit: Klara Kim)

At a recent Commonwealth Club event author Josh Kendall talked about his eponymous book on American obsessives and the seven builders-&-shakers on whom his spotlight shines. It is a spotlight of ambivalence. Kendall is talking about the likes of Melvil Dewey (who thought so obsessively in ten’s that we can now thank him for the Dewey decimal system, libraries, things like that.) Or Steve Jobs, who was prone to call in the scrubbers if a speck of dirt got on his white floors — but meanwhile was busy creating technological wonders. Or Charles Lindbergh, famous aviator and serial womanizer.

The talk made me feel a little better about the less famous among us. Being mildly obsessed with reproductive rights myself, I am inexpressibly grateful for the likes of Gloria Steinem, or Cecile Richards or Terry O’Neill. But investing one’s gifts and energies in a cause seems to be far less hazardous — to oneself as well as loved ones and everybody else — than the traditional path of the obsessive super-achiever.

Kendall’s super-achievers (the others he chose to study are Thomas Jefferson, Ted Williams, Henry Heinz and — it was reportedly hard to find a woman — Estee Lauder) were not just difficult, he maintains, but mentally ill. In an article for Slate titled “Madness Made Them Great,” he wrote that his subjects had “occasional bouts with depression, but they primarily suffered (or benefited) from another form of mental illness: obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.”

You can obsess about a cause or a project and still be a great parent or a welcome dinner guest; once you get to the level of OCPD evidenced by Kendall’s subjects — who make for a fascinating book, by the way — you’re making a mark on history, but driving your families and friends nuts.

In other words, obsessives create a lot of good stuff but you probably don’t want to marry one.