Giving Thanks for the Small Moments

It’s that time of year. It’s Thanksgiving.

In the media, in newspapers as everywhere else, the thought occurs that we ought to be thinking about giving thanks. You know: acknowledge, cherish, say thank you, recognize, reassure ourselves, thank the deities and the usual suspects for what we have.

As opposed to whine, complain, argue, talk politics, yell, clench our fist at bicyclists, scooters and people texting while driving, Trump, scooters, SUVs, liberals and never Trumpites or always Trumpites. (Did I mention scooters?)

In short, we should rejoice, say thank you, be ever grateful for those who love you and those whom you love. As that famous and most optimistic-against-all-odds fictional creation Tiny Tim said: “God bless us, every one.”

As opposed to: “Bah! Humbug!”

Hope, in other words, and then hope again. ’Tis the season, after all.

Therefore, we might want to ignore the signs of alarm and the fact, both complicated and simple, that in Washington we are in the midst of the further testimonies, but not testimonials, of the impeachment hearings, and the spectacle of people in suits and work uniforms at the highest level of government briskly (or not) raising their hands and swearing. Politics, the bane and sugar cane of Washington, will be sure to raise its head.

On Nov. 20, Democratic presidential candidates held the fifth debate in the long trek toward the party’s nomination, in Atlanta. They are, in no particular order: Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Tulsi Gabbard, Tom Steyer, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang.

The proximity of hearings and debate may excite the excitable, but it is in some ways an example of ‘tis-a-different-season, the height and bottomless possibility of rift and friction at the start of the holidays.

Let’s be thankful. We have had the rare and rarefied experience of the hometown team, the Washington Nationals, winning the World Series, a first in the history of this (like any other) sports-nut town. Thanks, also, to the Washington Mystics, who won the WNBA title, and did not get a chance to celebrate nearly enough.

One last shout-out for the years, hours and times spent in Washington by Bei Bei, the giant panda, who ended his four-year tenure at the National Zoo and returned to China on Wednesday. Like his siblings, Bei Bei, now four years old, had that old black-and-white magic that held us in his spell.

We are in fact heading into the holiday season entire: Thanksgiving, followed by Christmas, ending with the last day of the year and starting with the first day of the new year.

Maybe, instead of tabulating what we have — a new this, an old that — we should catch up on the moments and the unexpected times that came upon us, full of shock and surprise, of the ambushes of daily life made unforgettable.

This is especially true in Washington, especially true for those of us who’ve lived here (and there) for some time. This remains — in spite of and because of the history-streaked streets and history-rich emblems and statues and domes, those visible gatherings of the self-important — a city of neighborhoods.

All our neighborhood are different — physically, in body politic, in flavor and tastes and number of building cranes, in size and corners and people.

We are The Georgetowner, to be sure, part of the oldest place, in many ways, in this city, which by grace and aspect remains the city on the hill, the beacon and center of the world.

We are also the people who live in the place we live, in a city not only of this village but a lot of villages and neighborhood. This is where we live, in our neighborhood, with neighbors. Anything can happen.

One day, on Oct. 28, a firefighter named Alex Graham, age 48, died of a heart attack while on duty. He was a member of Engine 21, one of a group called the Alley Rats, and he was a Firefighter of the Year in 2018.

He worked in the Engine 21 Firehouse, noted for its old California-style structure on Lanier Place in Adams Morgan. The EMS trucks and the fire engines always swing out of the firehouse, day and night, and you could see Graham or others like him in their helmets, cleaning the vehicles, sitting on the bench outside. The firehouse is a fixture here; on Halloween, the doors are open for the children and the families of the neighborhood.

On Nov. 7, a Thursday afternoon, we heard noises on the street on our part of Lanier Place. Cars, SUVs, fire engines, Homeland Security vehicles, white limos, police cars were coming down the street and heading toward the firehouse on the next block.

It was the funeral cortege for Graham, whose funeral was held at the Armory. Cars slowed and stopped in front of the firehouse. Bells were rung and salutes were given and the fire engine bearing his flag-draped coffin came by our house.

We go by the station every time we walk out the door to shop at the Safeway or CVS, or head for Columbia Road or 18th Street. We watched and paid our respects.

At times like this, you are grateful — grateful for the life of Graham, grateful for the neighborhood, grateful for the moments of daily life amid all the shouted, granulated, interpreted history that surrounds us.

We saw old friends returned from travels, new people, their children, the new leaves and people wearing time’s passage like the first winter coat.

I think, at times like these, we recognize aspects of home, the small moments writ large and standing large against the large moments writ every moment.

We say what we say at Thanksgiving: Thank you for these lives, this neighborhood, this moment.


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