It's tough to avoid the syrupy sweet attitude of gratitude that seemingly permeates everything around us right now. This period from Thanksgiving to New Year's beckons us to tap into our gratitude so that we can overeat, shop until we're broke, sojourn "over the river and through the woods" and generally just put up and shut up about the stark truth that for many of us, this has been a hard year.
I think about a colleague and dear friend who just learned he has cancer. He faces the fight of his life.
There's a soldier on his third combat tour whose recurring dream is that he will be the last KIA in Afghanistan and won't make it home for another holiday with his aging parents, one with dementia.
What about the families of students and teachers murdered at their school last year in Connecticut? This is their first Thanksgiving without their loved one at the table.
It's ignorant to suggest to any of them that a stout dose of gratitude will fix their troubles. Cancer, war, tragedy and loss know no season or month of the year, no convenient moment to turn upside down a life, a family or a community. Suffering happens when it happens. Omnipotent, it reigns over its subjects. For the rest of us, it's easy to offer a hopeful gesture or helpful hand. To give of ourselves to others is important, if not imperative. But don't expect it to work like an aspirin. For those who suffer with the pain of reality, nothing salves what hurts right now.
It's true about addiction, too. In working with people in its grips, I'm guilty of always spinning the problem by promising them that "from adversity comes opportunity." It's not that I'm trying to minimize their predicament or the seriousness of the moment. I only want them to find something to reach for that can reassure them it will be OK. And about half the time, it does. They get better.
Not always, though. The other half don't. They get worse. This is true for all of life's challenges. Some of us make it. Some of us don't. For every ray of light, there is a law of averages. Not even this holiday time betters the odds.
Still, it would be a bummer if I filled this space with a "season's greeting" that offers a pessimistic prognosis for whatever our challenge of this moment is. So consider this, which arrived a few paragraphs ago in an email from Karen Hering, whose new (and first) book is "Writing to Wake the Soul." It's worth a read because of her insight.
"In this Thanksgiving week," she wrote, "I am experiencing an overspill of gratitude, not only for the year gone by and the harvest that comes equally from its blessing and its challenges, but also for the year to come, with its abundance of possibilities."
Certainly, not everyone finds in this season the culmination of a year awash in gratitude and good fortune. But among even those with the toughest of tasks and deepest of loss, there remains this "abundance of possibilities" that defy this moment. You aren't required to have gratitude to find it, if only in the meantime you can believe it.
William Moyers is the vice president of public affairs and community relations for the Hazelden Foundation and the author of "Broken," his best-selling memoirs. His book "Now What? An Insider's Guide to Addiction and Recovery" was published last year. Please send your questions to William Moyers at [email protected] To find out more about William Moyers and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.