11/24/2005 12:24 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Thanksgiving: Could the Bad News Be the Good News?

Thanksgiving is an invitation to celebrate plenty. I have a problem with mass suggestions, so ever since our daughter was old enough to laugh at clowns, the three of us --- along with much of the Hasidic community from Brooklyn --- spend Thanksgiving afternoon at the Big Apple Circus. Afterward, if we have successfully ducked all invitations, we head off to a coffee shop and a satisfying stroll home through a deserted Central Park.

Until recently, walks in the park featured actual conversations. But ever since the junior member developed -- in quick succession -- the power of speech, a sense of empowerment and a point of view, our chats have a random, schizy quality. One of the grownups might mention a weird news factoid. Then the kid has an observation about Polly Pockets -- and all hope of a serious exchange is extinguished.

I have learned to be grateful for that punctured balloon. On our own, my wife and I are in danger of becoming terminally serious. Each day, ever more clearly, we see the fantasy that government leaders are competent, concerned or even remotely intelligent being stripped away. And we are left staring at that most frightening of all realizations: We must save ourselves.

We must save ourselves because, no matter which party wins in '06 and '08, the cupboard is bare. And will continue to be. In a time when tanks and bombers are becoming weapons of antiquity, the proposed US military budget calls for more and more of them. For 2006, the military budget is slated to rise from this year's $420 billion to $441.6 billion --- well over 50% of our government spending.

Okay, I can go to the gym more and train harder there. I can work smarter and/or longer. I can find new ways to store up nuts for the inevitable winter. But it's hard to think about waste on this scale without getting gloomy. It's even harder to realize that not even a Democratic landslide is going to beat those swords into better schools and national health care. What will? If Emerson is to be believed, the process of life itself: "Things refuse to be mismanaged long; nature hates monopolies and exceptions."

I remember, in the 80s, a mogul exhorting his employers: "Trees can grow to the sky." In fact, they can't. They can grow no taller than their roots will allow --- those roots, buried and unseen, are everything. Ditto with empires. They can't extend on will alone; without a credible cause and great support, they topple.

Our empire seems poised for a fall. But only a pessimist makes straight-line projections. Emerson again: "The compensations of calamity are made apparent to the understanding also, after long intervals of time. A fever, a mutilation, a cruel disappointment, a loss of wealth, a loss of friends, seems at the moment unpaid loss, and unpayable. But the sure years reveal the deep remedial force that underlies all facts."

Most days, I can't see that "deep remedial force." But on my better days --- like this stolen holiday moment --- I grasp that all I have to work with is now. There's no point worrying about events far beyond my control. For all we know, this depressing year might just be the prelude to glory. What --- the bad news is the good news? On a chilly Thanksgiving, a comforting thought.