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Mawk the Hawk (or, Thankfulness Unbounded)

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We recently discovered that our young puppy has pee-peed all over our expensive silk Persian rug, in five places to be exact. We bought it some twenty years ago, an utter extravagance when we didn't have kids and had some discretionary income and were trying to settle, convince, and inure ourselves into a post-Berkeley proto-bourgeois existence and had passed one of those semi-annual 80% off Going-Out-Of-Business All-Sales-Final sales and happened upon something we really liked. It ("the rug") had survived a cat, a previous dog, plus all of the projectile vomiting and leaky diapers from the infant and toddler years of our children who, on account of uncanny cuteness combined with our parental exhaustion, had received divine-like dispensations allowing them to run barefoot on its plush surface. At the end of a tired day, we also would find ourselves indulging in the small pleasure of babying our own toes by running them along the ever-so-soft patterns. Well, that gentle option is far less likely now, since the subtly intersecting shades of mauve and olive have turned a bit sinister in large splotches throughout.

Or, relatedly, the antique beaded lamp that we bought at the time to accompany "the rug" recently, we learned, had become the accidental target of a misguided missile of some sort launched sidearm during a raucous "play date" between my eight year old son and his mischievous yet ever-grinning buddy. The boys had thoughtfully turned the cracked side against the wall to avoid, or at least to stave off, detection and depression, for everyone's sake.

Given these ex-urban calamities, I might have given myself over to a sullen mood and taken up the reading of Henry Adams' The Degradation of Democratic Dogma or Oswald Spengler's Decline of the West, either by the broken light of that lamp. Things seem to be getting worse overall, our house is falling into general disrepair, and we're experiencing a downward descent toward premature demise. I can't even go outside to cultivate my own garden because the weeds have grown so thick.

But I just don't feel morose or downcast. In fact, I feel overflowing with unguarded gratitude, a kind of Zen-like affirmation that arrives unexpectedly and undeservedly, call it grace if you wish. It's not a Panglossian or ostrich-head-in-the-sand or three-monkeyed (see no evil, etc.) or devil-may-care response. I have reasons to be thankful. My kids are good kids. They are healthy. They read a lot. We laugh a lot together. I look around at their friends, and I like them all. None of the boys (or girls) is a bully. They are kind to each other. They hug each other. They are hard working and studious. They are playful and fun. Their teachers at our public school are superbly dedicated. The principal greets each parent by name and remembers details about every student's progress. It's a very southern California setting--each classroom looks like an experiment in globalized cross-breeding, populated by hybrid identities, mixed religious traditions, and various income brackets. I can report that if the future of the United States somehow depends on the abilities and efforts of the third and fifth grade classes that I've encountered first hand this year, then that future is bright indeed, notwithstanding all of the current doom-and-gloom forecasts. I also suspect there are many such classrooms, more or less, across the nation (even as many more high-quality public schools are needed).

At the college level, I am privileged to work day-in, day-out with supremely talented, intelligent, persevering, responsible, conscientious and caring undergraduates. They are not beer-slurping slackers. My students are amazing individuals, one after another. They come from all over the United States (and parts elsewhere, too). Some of them come from well-heeled backgrounds; others hail from humble or hardscrabble pasts. I can tell you that they, the entire lot of them, are not squandering their educational opportunities. They are working and working, and they will make us all proud. Bet on it.

And I find myself surrounded by persons I respect, admire, and deeply love. My colleagues, my neighbors, members of my community, my family--and friends and former mentors and associates with whom today I can stay in close contact owing to email--are creative, vibrant, interesting, substantive, exemplary human beings. They enrich my life immensely. I feel tremendous affection for the chance, a sheer gift as if out of nowhere, to have shared and be sharing much of life with them. (I'm tempted to name names here, but I'll spare you.) If I have a fitful night of sleep these days, the cause of my wee-hour agitation is usually that I can hardly wait for the next day to commence. No kidding.

So the rug has dog pee on it. No big deal. Such setbacks seem niggling against a larger vista, and there are greater challenges to meet and serious wrongs to right and others in crying need to help. I don't take my good fortune, my dumb luck, for granted. It does seem precarious, I know that much will be fleeting, and I brace for something ominous ahead. For now, though, I'd like to arrest and freeze many of the ineffably meaningful moments and make them last longer, maybe forever, as it were. On second thought, I have all of the beauty and justice and generosity and goodness of spirit that I could ever need or expect, right in front of me, enough to last an eternity already. What need have I, really, of Heaven, except to wish its extension to all? "Why should I wish to see God better than this day?" asks Whitman.

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