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11/27/2008 10:23 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

A Thank-You Note Addressed "To Whom It May Concern"

A lot of subjects flashed through my mind when I was invited to write a Thanksgiving post. The slow, corrosive effects of greed. The holiday celebrations of Wall Street CEOs, golden parachutes rippling in the wind, and those of Americans who can't find work through no fault of their own. The generosity of the Native American who took in a group of dying settlers, saving them and losing his land in the process.

Or the story of a family that, like so many squatters and relatives, took over a house that they were only meant to occupy for a short while. Pretty soon they started acting like they owned the place, like they could do whatever they want with it - change it around, share it with their friends, leave a mess for others to clean up ...

You know. The Bushes.

Then there's the irony-rich first set of pardons the President issued this week. I mean, he actually pardoned someone convicted of ... killing bald eagles. What writer wouldn't give thanks for material like that?

But now doesn't seem like the time for negativity, or sarcasm, or snark. We're facing a crisis whose proportions we have yet to fully comprehend. As hackneyed as it may sound, this seems like a time for thinking positively. It seems like a time for putting aside old resentments and rivalries, a time for doing all we can. And like the old Elvis Costello song says, I'm not angry anymore.

So I thought about positive topics. John Lennon, for example, or the land that nurtures us (and which too many of us forget to thank.)

Or Gary Snyder, the poet laureate of this continent. In 1968 he called the single-family house "a box to capture the biped in," and this crisis shows how prophetic that comment was. A hundred million Americans enslaved to their mortgages. On a recent road trip I drove through Bakersfield, one of the hardest-hit real estate markets in California. "We have cash buyers," one billboard said.

There's a lot of human misery behind a sign like that. I thought I might give thanks for those who warned us that misery was coming, and who might show us the way out of it.

Then there's General Carter Ham. This four-star commander had the courage to admit publicly that he suffers from PTSD. Hopefully that will encourage more people in the military to come forward and seek help. Maybe it will help others in society do the same. Mental illness is stigmatized in a way that physical illness isn't, and that's wrong. That stigma's the result of our failure to understand that mind and body are a continuum, a matrix, an interconnected whole. It's an artifact of outmoded Manichean beliefs. Thank you, Gen. Ham.

It's also worth giving thanks just for the extraordinary privilege of being alive, for the chiarascuro unexpectedness of this existence and all its uncountable fascinating facets. You name it, we've got it: spiral galaxies and Art Deco and film noir and Boltzmann brains. We've even got 70's era garage-rock and country music from the Golden Triangle of Burma. Who could've thought up Lashio Thein Aung, the "Burmese Texan"? Or any of the other stuff we come across every day, if we bother to look?

That's the great thing about reality: it's endlessly inventive.

(Boltzmann brains are a theoretical possibility - living intelligences that appear randomly from the fluctuations of the universe, look around for an instant of self-awareness, that disappear back in the flux of existence.)

"The way to know God is to love many things," said Van Gogh. I'd thank God, but I don't believe in an anthropomorphic deity. Another kind? Maybe. I use the word "God" sometimes, but I'm just as happy to address my thanks to Her, Him, or Current Occupant. Or None of the Above. And I'm especially thankful for the beauty of mathematical laws. Want to say a prayer of admiration and thanksgiving to the universe? Here's one way: First, solve for x ...

What epitaph would you put on your tombstone? I think I might like this one: "Wow, that was interesting." Because it is pretty damn interesting, even if our allotted span isn't all that much longer than a Boltzmann brain's.

I can't shake the feeling that something big is happening in the world right now. Something really big. I don't know if it will be bad or good - or maybe it will be bad at first and then be good later. It works out that way sometimes. Or maybe I'm wrong, and a bunch of small things will keep happening one after another like they've been doing all along. But however it plays out, it will be interesting. And it will be a privilege to play whatever small part I'm assigned in dealing with it, shoulder to shoulder with everybody else. Because we'll be facing it together, in our common humanity and common membership in the web of living things.

That includes all of us, even those CEOs and the family in that big house.

So here's my shot of gratitude to you, Interconnected Universe. Or God, if I may call you that. If that doesn't work, I'll just direct this to "what is." Names don't really matter, and maybe I've got no business talking about this stuff anyway. I certainly can't claim any special insight. But on this 27th of November in 2008, for the record, and to whom it may concern: Thanks.

RJ Eskow blogs when he can at:

A Night Light
The Sentinel Effect: Healthcare Blog

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