In spite of it all, there really is a lot to be thankful for

The world we live in is harsh and ugly at times. And it’s easy to give in to despair. This, sadly, is doubly true for those of us, like me, who expend a good deal of their time and energy trying to avoid the grasp of depression, even in the best of times. It’s hard to look objectively at our planet, as it exists today, and not feel completely overwhelmed with sadness.

Our elected leaders, beholden to corporate America, are increasingly making decisions that are putting the future of humanity at risk. Our public schools are being systematically dismantled. Our cities are being taken over and sold for scrap. Our elections are being gamed by way of gerrymandering and other forms of trickery, so that those in power stay in power. Our increasingly militarized police forces are killing us in unprecedented numbers. All of our actions are being watched and recorded. Religious extremism is on the rise. Science is under attack. Reproductive rights are being curtailed. And those of us who aren’t in the top 1% are sliding ever more rapidly toward poverty, working harder for less, just to stay alive. And, on top of all of this, far too many of us, at this very moment, are struggling to navigate the American health care system without losing everything we own, instead of just focusing our energies on getting well.

In spite of this, though, there are still things to be thankful for. I know it’s hard to bring that fact to the forefront of one’s mind, but it’s true.

Where there’s life, there is hope. And we can’t afford to think otherwise. That, I’m convinced, is what kept people from the polls earlier this month, and we cannot allow it to continue. People feel hopeless. No matter what we do, it just doesn’t seem to matter. And that’s easy to understand. Here in Michigan, we busted our asses to to overturn an unjust Emergency Manager law, only to have it come right back again within days, despite the overwhelming vote against it. It feels as though the deck is stacked against us, and that, no matter what we do, nothing will change. But that’s a trap. That’s what they want for us to think.

They want for us to accept that the non-wealthy have no voice whatsoever in American politics. They want for us to just give in, and stop fighting back. They want for us to retrench into our homes, and just focus on feeding and protecting our families. They want for us to fear our neighbors, and start hoarding arms, gold coins and food. Instead of fighting back against the system, they want us to turn against one another. They want us to complain about the teacher down the street who makes a living wage instead of demanding that everyone should have a living wage. They want us divided along lines of race, sex and class. They want a world where people instinctively look the other way, whether it’s when pollutants are being dumped into Lake Michigan, immigrants are being attacked in our communities, or prisoners are being being fed maggots. They want us to think, “At least my water is pretty clean. At least no one is sending my children back to a violent country. At least I’m not in jail.” They want for us to stop empathizing… to stop being human.

But there are things, in spite of it all, that are going well. There are numerous instance of people coming together at the local level, and making positive things happen. Here are just a few examples that come immediately to mind.

No matter how much you may dislike your fellow Ypsilantians, at least we no longer have to contend with the likes of Harry Bennet and Tom Monaghan. And, in spite of all the shit we’re dealing with, at least we no longer have to contend with local cross burnings.

We live in a community where people care. We live in a community where cool and interesting people want to put down roots and contribute. We live in a community where people are talking about forming a cooperative bookstore. We live in a community full of artists and makers. We live in a community where our local waters are getting cleaner. We live in a community rich with history. We live in a community full of thriving locally-owned businesses. We live in a community where people came together to activate vacant public land and create a commons. We live in a community where kick-ass librarians keep fighting to make life better. We live in a community where people like Paul Saginaw are leading the national debate on higher wages. We live in a community where companies are pushing to increase employee ownership. We live in a community where people are exploring new models to bring healthy food to our tables. I could go on…

The point is, in spite of what I rant about here on a daily basis, and what we all talk about over beer and coffee, the truth is, there’s more to life than the threat of people carrying assault weapons in our grocery stores and that fact that we’re being forced to purchase rape insurance.

And, in addition too all of the stuff that we’ve got to be thankful for on the community level, we’ve all got things to be thankful for in our personal lives. Here are just a few of mine.

[note: What follows is my annual Thanksgiving post, which has been running on this site for the past several years.]

I probably don’t say it here as often as I should, but I’m incredibly thankful for my friends and family. Without my family, I wouldn’t be here. And, without my friends, I wouldn’t be the person that am today… Sure, I might be a better, more successful, and more productive version of myself without them, but I wouldn’t be the same person that I am today. So, before I get started with this post, I’d just like to note that I’m incredibly thankful for everyone that I’m related to, from my grandmother in Kentucky, to my kids, who are now in the other room, looking at our enormous turkey through the little glass porthole in the oven. There have been some bad times, and we’ve lost some people over the years, but, all in all, I’d say that we’ve been really fortunate as a family. As far as I know, all of us who are alive at the moment, are healthy, happy, employed and have roofs over our heads, which is quite an accomplishment in today’s world. As for friends, the same, for the most part, goes for them. A few are temporarily without partners, or between jobs, but, as far as I know, the people in my friendship network (“tribe” sounded too new age) are doing pretty well, and I’m thankful for that.

I’m thankful that my friends Dan and Matt, when they’d graduated from college, moved to Ann Arbor to live with me. If they hadn’t, I might never have had the misdirected encouragement I needed to start a band. And, if the three of us hadn’t formed a band, I probably wouldn’t have ever ventured into Ypsilanti, where I met my wife, Linette. There are others that played a role as well, like Ward Tomich, who booked us to play at Cross Street Station that fateful night. Without all of these folks, I’d likely be living in the forest today, sucking nutrients from moss-covered rocks.

I’m thankful for the car crash that my dad had in the late 60’s, which almost tore his arm from his body. If it hadn’t happened, my dad surely would shipped off to fight in Vietnam, with the other men that he’d been training with. Of the dozen or so men in his group, only two returned alive. I cannot imagine growing up without a father.

I’m thankful that my mother encouraged my father to apply for job at AT&T after he was released from the Navy. (He worked at the Portsmouth Naval Hospital after recovering from his accident.) He’d been working highway construction jobs when she talked him into applying for a position at a remote audio relay station of some kind near Monticello, Kentucky. He got that job, flipping switches and listening in on people’s private phone calls, and the rest is history. He steadily climbed up through the ranks, ending his career at the company headquarters in New Jersey – probably one of the few people without a college degree to do so. If this hadn’t happened, I would likely still be in the same small town in Kentucky today, instead of in the worldly sophisticated metropolis of Ypsilanti, Michigan.

While my parents never graduated from college, they did both attend classes as they could, which wasn’t easy with full-time jobs and two kids to raise. I remember pretty clearly my mom studying Spanish late at night at the kitchen table. And I remember them proof-reading class assignments for one another. It made an impression on me, and I’m forever thankful for it. It’ll probably make my mom cry to hear it, but I’m also thankful that they stopped taking me to church at a young age.

I’m thankful that my parents valued education enough to settle our family in a decent school district, instead of closer to where my father was going to be working. My dad, most days, left for work at 5:00 AM to catch the bus, and didn’t return until 7:00 PM or so at night. He did that for over a dozen years straight, and, because of that, I got to attend a great public school, where I met people like Dan and Matt – the guys I mentioned above who moved to Ann Arbor to make noise, drink $1 pitchers of beer, and publish zines with me.

Speaking of sacrifice, I’m also thankful that my distant relatives made the decision to come to America when they did. They did so without knowing if they’d ever see their homelands again. They left everything they knew in England, Sweden, Scotland, and Poland, in order to make a better life for their families. And, it’s because of their sacrifices that I’m here today, not having to work in the fields from sun up to sun down as they did.

Oh, and I’m thankful that, of all the mental illnesses in the world, I got OCD, which kind of has its up-side.

And, of course, I’m thankful that it wasn’t a heart attack the other day.

OK, there’a whole lot more I’d like to say, but that’ll have to be it for now, as the buzzer on the oven is ringing.

Happy holidays.

seasonsgreetingsferguson

One last thing… Here’s hoping that, in the coming year, we get even further above the snake line.

In the words of Reverend Dr. William Barber II:

…My son is an environmental physicist, and every now and then he tells me things about nature. And he told me one day, he said, “Daddy, if you ever get lost in mountainous territory and you have to walk out, don’t walk out through the valley, but climb up the mountain, to higher ground.”

I said, “Why must I climb up the mountain to higher ground?”

He said, “Daddy, snakes live in the lowland. But if you go up the mountain there’s something in biology and environmental studies called a snake line. Snakes can’t live above it. Because they asphyxiate. They suffocate. They’re cold blooded animals and they die.”

Well, in America we’ve got to get our politics above the snake line.

Have mercy, Jesus. Yeah, there are some snakes out here.

There’s some low down policies out here.

There’s some poison out here.

Going backwards on voting rights, that’s below the snake line.

Going backwards on civil rights, that’s below the snake line.

Hurting people just because they have a different sexuality, that’s below the snake line.

Stomping on poor people just because you got power, that’s below the snake line.

Denying health care to the sick and keeping children from opportunity, that’s below the snake line.

But I stopped by to tell you there’s got to be somebody that’s willing to go to higher ground.

Higher ground, where every child is educated.

Higher ground, where the sick receive health care.

Higher ground, where the poor are lifted.

Higher ground, where voting rights are secure.

…And when I go up in the spirit, and I listen to the Lord, sometimes I’m reminded that the moral arc of the universe, it might be long, but it bends toward justice.

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25 Comments

  1. Posted November 27, 2014 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    Interesting.

  2. Glen S.
    Posted November 28, 2014 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    Mark — I think this may be your best post ever.

    Happy thanksgiving to you and yours.

  3. Anonymous
    Posted November 28, 2014 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    If I’m not mistaken, the SEASONS GREETINGS image is from Ferguson a few nights ago.

    Nice touch.

  4. Oliva
    Posted November 28, 2014 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    I’m with Glen S.–swell post.

  5. Posted November 28, 2014 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    I think it’s too wordy, but thank you for the kind words. And I probably should have waited until Monday to post it. People don’t read the site that much over thanksgiving. They’re too busy with their Black Friday shopping.

  6. Posted November 28, 2014 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Interesting comment.

  7. John Galt
    Posted November 28, 2014 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    I am thankful that so few people read this blog.

  8. mariah
    Posted November 29, 2014 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    i an thankful! it’s a long road, but I believe empathy and downright giving a shit wins. Or at least wins in the ways I care about. Here’s to the teachers and writers and doers and artists and makers and care-ers and people trying their hardest each day to make things better. I am thankful for you.

  9. Bee
    Posted November 29, 2014 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    I’m super grateful for Mark Maynard. This is a great post and cantankerously sums up so much of what I love about living in this corner of the world, and I’m reminded of how he was a huge influence on my wanting to check out Ypsi thanks to his presence at a zingerman’s microcosm/meeting of minds. I looked up his blog after meeting him that day, having the words ‘severed unicorn head superstore’ stuck in my brain and recall thinking, “hmmmph, sounds like my kind of place, ypsilanti”. Here we are.

  10. Jean Henry
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Hey Pater Larsen– I challenge you to say something that commits yourself to an idea about Mark and his site generally. It can be nice or nasty (though I think nice is more of a challenge). ‘Interesting’ is what a really mean and condescending prof says to his students. It’s a cop out.

    Mark– What you do on this site is a powerful tool for change. Bee’s comment alone makes that clear. I hope someday, there is a book in this blog, because it will be a valuable testament to how Ypsi bootstrapped itself back up and redefined itself with heart and mojo and clear heads.

  11. D'Real
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    @Jean Henry, don’t hold your breath! Dr. Peter Larsen and Mark Maynard are Friends, yes, friends with a capital ‘f’. They also are former band mates. PeterLarson.com, will prove that he’s online primarily to flex his intellectual muscles, and, to you know support his homie.

    Read more about why Peter can say whatever, whenever, even if it’s not adding to the dialogue here: http://markmaynard.com/2013/03/introducing-my-friend-doctor-peter-larson/

  12. Jean Henry
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Hey D’Real–I know who Dr Larsen is. I’ve agreed and disagreed with him a bunch in this space. I find his penchant for ‘interesting’ as sole comment loaded and annoying. My guess is Mark knows what he thinks in most cases; the rest of us are just left feeling condescended to and roped out of the conversation. I’m not sure how the comment constitutes support. Maybe it’s the Peter Larsen version of an on line fist bump. It seems more like a private joke expressed in a public place– which is rude. Just felt like calling him out for not playing fair; I expected no response..

  13. Ben
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    I’m thankful for this site. Thanks for all you do!

    That said, I should point out and clarify, you said that we “live in a community where kick-ass librarians keep fighting to make life better.” We do, in Ypsilanti, live in such a community. Joy, the branch manager at the downtown Ypsi library is constantly working to continue to make the Ypsi library relevant to the many different cultures and subcultures of Ypsilanti and our teen librarian Jodi is incredible at connecting with the local teens of Ypsi and helping them have agency in the library goings on!

    Outside of Ypsi, in Ann Arbor, Eli is doing a lot of great things at the library. BUT. HE IS NOT A LIBRARIAN. He is a LIBRARY ADMINISTRATOR. This is a very important distinction. All librarians have Masters of Library Science (whether they work at the desk or in the back or are management), but this is not true for Eli. This is in no way to negate his incredible work to make AADL super relevant and fun. But it is a distinction that matters and is often blurred by some libraries these days. That is the flipside to AADL.

  14. Anonymous
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Ouch! Librarian fight!

  15. Posted November 30, 2014 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    Hopefully Pete will come along and answer for himself. My guess, however, is that one of the reasons he posts here because it drives traffic back to his site. (People click on his name, and it takes them to his site.) And, when he doesn’t have anything else to say, he just says “Interesting.” It doesn’t really bother me all that much. I just like when people leave comments. And “Interesting” is better than “Boring.” If you want to get back at him, though, you could always go to his site and leave an “Interesting.”

  16. Posted November 30, 2014 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    Goddammit, Maynard, this post almost made me cry and actually poked my cold, dark heart. :)

  17. jcp2
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think anybody but myself reads Pete’s site. It’s too much TL;DR.

  18. Lynne
    Posted December 1, 2014 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    I could go on and on about all of the things I love about Ypsilanti and why I am thankful to have found a place to live in Washtenaw County where I feel comfortable. Lovely post, Mark.

  19. Posted December 24, 2014 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    I know I’ll probably come to regret it, but I just made a Christmas present for Pete… It’s a bit of code that will make his job easier. Let me know what you think.

    LarsonInteresting2

  20. Posted December 25, 2014 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    Very interesting.

  21. Posted December 25, 2014 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    Some of Mr. Maynard’s posts are interesting. Some are not.

  22. Posted December 25, 2014 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    My new goal in life is to find a famous epidemiologist to write a one-word review of one of your academic papers, Pete.

  23. Posted December 25, 2014 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    I am sure that the word would be:

    “Dubious”

  24. Posted December 25, 2014 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    And, to be clear, I am a strong supporter of this website.

  25. Meta
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    Congress Introduces A National Abortion Ban On Its Very First Day Back

    Republicans in Congress are wasting no time following through on the anti-abortion agenda the GOP laid out after winning significant gains in the 2014 midterm elections.

    On Tuesday, the very first day of the 114th Congress, two lawmakers introduced a measure to ban abortions after 20 weeks, in direct violation of the protections afforded under Roe v. Wade. Reps. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) reintroduced the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, the same legislation that successfully passed the House last year.

    Read more:
    http://thinkprogress.org/health/2015/01/07/3608821/congress-20-week-abortion/

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