Making the Business of Life Easier

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Giving Thanks

Why they'll give thanks
Well-known authors tell The Globe and Mail what they'll be thankful for this year

Saturday, October 6, 2001

Ian Brown

Given that the word "thank" derives from the same ancient linguistic root ball of meaning as the word "think," it's difficult to deny that Sept. 11 has made us all more thoughtful, hence thankful. Every moment that chundles by without incident seems more charged now; the most suburban status quo has become blindingly glamorous. Sheer, ordinary, did-you-take-out-the-cat-I-forgot-my-wallet boredom - or, to put it another way, the mere absence of terror, the quotidian fact that chemicals and death did not rain from the sky today - seems positively charmed.

Meanwhile - have you noticed this too? - time has slowed to the proverbial crawl. I watch it going by step by step these days, like an old man circumnavigating a mess on a sidewalk, like a girl refusing to step on a crack. Moments and hours and even whole afternoons by now have been nailed to the spot, made eventful by their very uneventfulness.

But what is that, really, except what should have been there in my heart in the first place - ordinary gratitude? And doesn't it seem trite in these still-taut times? Callous too, given that my gratitude is predicated on being alive: I am thankful I am still here, an emotion that requires the absence of those who are not.

And so, even gratitude has been weakened for me, perhaps even permanently compromised, like a hotel near Ground Zero. Somehow I've evolved from being grateful for being alive to feeling ashamed for feeling grateful - because gratitude, it turns out, is hardly sufficient compensation for the privileges I enjoy, for what I have that others don't, a continent or two from here.

And the fact that I didn't remember this every day, that it took a jumboed bomb to blow the admission out of me, is Exhibit 1 of the evidence of my Western capitalistic complacency, which on a bad day I can imagine had some small hand in breeding terrorism in the first place. In this way, in two mental paragraphs, I go from being thankful to being guilty.

Which is why, as the gusty, doubt-laden moral fallout of Sept. 11 settles around me, I've taken to being especially grateful for the minor irritations of my day: for the latté-swilling moron in the BMW who couldn't wait his turn at the intersection near my daughter's school this morning, whom I am now grateful to have to curse (I hope he's there tomorrow, and the day after that); for the phone company, which sold me a modem that last week needed two days to deliver an e-mail, and to whom I am dedicating this weekend's turkey; for the Chinese woman at the grocery store near my office whose desire to sell the day's New York Times is inversely proportional to my desire to buy it, because her sheer bloody-mindedness is as bracing as a slap in the chops.

And, of course, I am especially thankful for loudmouths like Sunera Thobani, the British Columbian professor of women's studies who was cheered and applauded by 500 women for claiming that U.S. foreign policy is "soaked in blood." She is a comforting reminder that stupidity and bottomless self-regard are not yet crimes.

I realize it's complicated, this new gratitude of mine, winding as it does between thinking and thanking, between fury and chagrin. But at least I have something to complain about. Doesn't it feel great again? Ian Brown is a Toronto-based writer, journalist and broadcaster.

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