Gratitude & Politics

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It’s Black Friday, followed by Small Business Day on Saturday. So for those of us who must, hit the stores! What holds my interest this holiday weekend, though, is yesterday.

Thanksgiving commemorates a humble time in American history when surviving through the winter was no small victory.

Nearly 500 years later, for many in this country it still is. Others of us feel we can barely survive the emotional angst of this time of year. Indeed, despite the material affluence of our beachside town, making it through holidays continues to flummox many of us. We may have the credit cards in our jeans to shop Fashion Island and fill our grocery carts at Pavilions or Bristol Farms, but we still face extended family gatherings and friends of different persuasions at parties, where our differences and old resentments can rise up to chill the innate good will of this season.

Which may be why my father used to caution me to avoid speaking of politics and religion at social gatherings (possibly because he was married to my well-informed mother, who was known to launch verbal political grenades at such events).

I understand my father’s concern, but really, after we’ve discussed the latest films or TV shows we’ve seen, the weather, and our travels, what’s left to talk about? Besides, politics and religion are on everyone’s mind these days, given the reporting, blogging, and tweeting that goes on 24/7.

Because I did not take my father’s advice (no surprise here) I had to learn, often the hard way, more effective ways to communicate about what divides us as families, as a town, as a country.

Asking questions and listening to the answers helps. So does looking for common ground.

On this Thanksgiving weekend I find myself grateful for what makes us different from one another.

Specifically, I’m grateful for my Roman Catholic and conservative evangelical friends who meet up to walk and talk and debate each week and still part as friends.

I’m grateful for friends who oppose my positions on Hoag Hospital’s affiliation with St. Joseph and picked up the phone to talk about it.

I’m grateful for the out-of-the-closet gay and lesbian people at the church I attend, proving Sunday after Sunday that the pillars of Christendom do not crumble when such people worship and serve with the rest of us.

I’m grateful for Republicans like Mayor Keith Curry, who organized the superb talk by historian Tim Naftali at the Newport Beach Public Library about John F. Kennedy’s presidency on the fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination. (Naftali argued that Kennedy, a Democrat, considered himself as “post-ideological” — and I’d be grateful if we had more pragmatic politicians today.)

I’m grateful for women like Allyson Sonenshine, of the Orange County Women’s Health Project and UCI Nursing Science Center for the Advancement of Women’s Health, who spoke to the Women in Leadership luncheon on Nov. 22 about the positive effects of the Affordable Care Act upon women’s health. (Did you know that in many states health insurance companies’ pre-existing conditions included women who had been victims of domestic violence or had given birth by Caesarian section?)

I’m grateful for President Obama and those who voted for the ACA, despite its flaws and the Administration’s mis-steps.

I’m also grateful that we live in a country where we can speak openly about our political and religious differences.

And in this conservative territory, I’m grateful for those Democratic and moderate Republican men and women who have the courage to speak up when the subject of politics comes up during this season’s gatherings, and say, “Hey, there’s another way to look at this.”

My mother would like that.

The writer can be reached at [email protected]

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