By Nancy Gibbs
December 31, 2018
IDEAS
Gibbs, a former editor-in-chief of News time, is the visiting Edward R. Murrow Professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government

It’s a challenge to manage the year end inventory of blessings when so many ghouls and goblins haunted 2018. The gangsters. The politicians. The politicians who turned out to be gangsters. The fires and floods and winds that seared and soaked and shredded towns from sea to shining sea. The Robin Hood remake. Orange wine. Facebook.

But like any physical and mental therapy, when the exercises are hard, they are helping. This is a year when a pause to dwell in gratitude may be what we need most of all.

I’m grateful for that for the third straight year, the U.S. poverty rate declined. this year that since 2000, 1.45 million children’s lives have been saved thanks to vaccines that target the main bacterial causes of meningitis and pneumonia. The Gates Foundation reports that since 1990, the number of children who die before they reach the age of 5 has been cut in half.

Some of the best news comes quietly, one rescue at a time.

I’m grateful for Tara Westover and Michelle Obama and Madeline Miller and Leila Slimani and a choir of voices who wrote unforgettable books.

I’m grateful for the example set by Navy Seal and newly minted Congressman Dan Crenshaw, who responded to comedian Pete Davidson’s tasteless mockery by reaching out, forgiving him, swatting him merrily on SNL, and finally, reaching out in support after a disturbing tweet revealed Davidson’s mental health struggles.

I’m grateful that Crenshaw’s incoming congressional colleagues look like the most intriguing bunch in years, from the MMA fighter to the pediatrician, the Connecticut teacher of the Year, the CIA officers, the business leaders, the Green Beret. Godspeed as they set off into what promises to be one of the most fateful legislative sessions of our lifetimes.

For all the ugliness, congress did pass bipartisan Opioid legislation, and the first stage in criminal justice reform. Any signs of progress on any front is to be celebrated— and these are issues that cut across ideologies, regions, parties, perils.

This one is hard to reckon with: but I’m grateful, in a white-knuckled way, for the required course in citizenship we have been forced to take this year. The nature of this presidency and the state of our politics erased so much of what we took for granted about public service and national purpose and the role we each must play when the sirens start sounding. Some of our institutions are holding up admirably; others are a smoking ruin. Enemies poison our information streams, partisans grasp for power at any cost and a deep, unsettling sense of emergency suffuses each news cycle. All of which means that some of the greatest blessings of free societies that we happily took for granted now require our conscious care and concern. One day, once we know how this all ends, we will have to start over: respect those we have fought with, renew relations with allies, restore the values that carried us here and reckon with all we’ve learned.

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