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Don’t forget Thanksgiving

by Paul Varnell

Audre Lorde
With Halloween and the mid-term elections now behind us we are, it seems, hurtling headlong into the holiday season. Already stores are offering holiday sales, drug stores are selling Christmas tree lights and ornaments and, believe it or not, one radio station began playing Christmas music around the clock in the first week of November.

But it would be a shame in all this flurry of activity if the venerable holiday of Thanksgiving got lost. Thanksgiving is the only occasion during the year when each of us is encouraged to think about the things we are grateful for.

Originally the idea was to be thankful to a god people then believed in. But even in our more secular age we can still be aware that much of what makes our lives satisfying is not the result of our own efforts but the efforts of others. Often, people we do not even know — for example, the people who invented antibiotics or the founding fathers who created America’s free political institutions.

But rather than telling you what you should be giving thanks for, it might be better if I share a few things I am thankful for, in hopes that it will stimulate some ideas of your own. I am aware that a personal approach risks seeming sappy, but that is a necessary risk.

I suppose, first of all, I am thankful to be alive. It could easily have been otherwise. As a gay man who was sexually active during the late 1970s and early 1980s when, unknown to us all, HIV was spreading rapidly through our community, I could have been among those who contracted the virus and died early in the epidemic. Most of my friends from that era are dead.

Harry Hay

So I am also thankful for the handful of friends I have left from that period, as well as the ones I have managed to acquire since. They are the people who connect me to the world, entertain and inform me, offer help when needed and admonish me when I am wrong. More than most of us realize, we depend on friends to keep us sane and balanced.

As a single man and, it would seem, a confirmed bachelor, I am comfortable living without a partner. But for many people, having a partner can be a great blessing and certainly something to be thankful for. I can pass on the comment of one of my friends who observed one evening, “I am so lucky to have found a man I love and who loves me.”

I am thankful that I am living at a time when and in a country where a person can live openly with integrity as a gay person and lead a reasonably normal life. This opportunity is unique in recorded history and is still not possible in most of the world today. We have not yet achieved full equality, but we are closer than at any time in the past. Much of the freedom we have today is due to the courageous work of the pioneers of the gay movement and I am grateful to and thankful for them.

I am thankful for the two men from whom I have learned the most — Leo Strauss and Friedrich Hayek. Hayek and Strauss agree on almost nothing, so they exist as an unresolvable tension in my mind, a constant reminder that the world is more
Harvey Milk
complicated than it seems. They serve as a stimulus for me to think carefully and write as clearly as possible. Two men whose erudition on homosexuality I am thankful for are psychologist C. A. Tripp and historian Wayne Dynes. Both shed light where there was darkness.

I am thankful for the proliferating variety and creativity of Western culture. Most of us will never absorb even half of it, but its music, art and literature have enriched my life and in many ways made my life worth living. A sampling of specifics: Literature — Conrad, Austen, Bely, Rand, Johnson, Swift; Music — Bach, Rachmaninoff, Vaughn Williams, Martinu, Gershwin; Art — Caravaggio, Caspar David Friedrich, De Chirico.

Does it go without saying that I am thankful for my parents who did their best to guide and educate me? Perhaps it does not. When I have written appreciatively of my parents in the past, some people have commented to me that they did not have any such warm relationship with their parents. Reminders like that make me realize that supportive parents were not something I should take for granted but were the constant effort of two people trying hard to be good parents. For that I am thankful too.

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