I spent last weekend in Manhattan. Although I had watched hours of Sandy storm coverage and had read about the blackouts, the displacements and the flooding, I hadn’t really understood what had actually happened until I walked through lower Manhattan and saw small storefronts with smashed windows, trash piled on sidewalks and a lingering fear that traveled through the brisk autumn air. Although I was seeing The City 10 days after the disaster, Sandy’s bitter aftertaste remained.
However, what was more striking than the “CLOSED INDEFINITELY” signs that rested on windowsills throughout Tribeca was the overwhelming selflessness New Yorkers showed. I had read accounts of marathoners who had, in lieu of pitying themselves for training for a cancelled race, distributed food and blankets to families in Long Beach. I had watched the relief concert. I had re-tweeted celebrities’ tweets about the Red Cross. I had even texted to donate in a sorry attempt to help from afar. But what I hadn’t understood — and couldn’t understand until I saw it first hand — was the sense of community, the kinship amongst New Yorkers, that brought the Upper East Side resident who had been unaffected by Sandy’s breath to the streets of Queens with food and water. I couldn’t understand that, despite the racing and honking and mania of New York City, anyone who had something to share — money, food, bedrooms or electricity — did. The stories I had read were not those of the most magnanimous, but were rather representative of what was happening on every block. I couldn’t understand how extraordinary it was that that New Yorkers, in all their varied forms, came together in the wake of disaster in a beautifully genuine way.
Returning to school, I almost instantaneously forgot all that I had seen and heard, and immediately fell back into the Cornell grind, knowing that I have just one final push until Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Every Thanksgiving, my American history junkie of a father delivers the story of the Mayflower, Squanto and the bravery of the pilgrims, before asking everyone at our Thanksgiving table to share what we are most thankful for today. As I have gotten older, my Thanksgiving table has gotten smaller: Grandparents have passed, cousins have moved away and friends of friends have found other gatherings to crash. But, no matter how large or small my Thanksgiving dinner may be, I am, as I remind myself each year, lucky to have people who I love and who (I think) love me. “I am thankful for you all,” I might respond.
This weekend in New York City, followed by a long and contemplative drive back to Ithaca, I was reminded that, although I’m thankful to have close friends and family, I am also grateful for all the people I don’t spend Thanksgiving with, the people I don’t even know, nor ever will. I am grateful for the men and women who have fought in wars past (and present) so that I can say what I want, pray to whomever I want and control, as a woman, what happens to my body. I am grateful to go to a university that is providing me with the tools I need to compose a successful and meaningful life. I am grateful to the woman who picked up the quarter I dropped when my hands were full at Wegman’s yesterday, and I am grateful for the little girls standing outside in cold Ithaca autumn selling cookies to raise money for cancer research.
Despite all that gratitude, as a cynical student at a rigorous university that, some might argue, is in a state of “crisis,” it is easy to hone in on all that is wrong, and all that is immediate. The bureaucratic administration, the prelims, the anxiety about jobs (or lack thereof), the sleepless nights and the asshole who didn’t call the next day are more salient to all of us than the goodness of the New Yorkers who are housing 10 people in their one bedroom apartments. It is all too easy, when wrapped up in my own story, to forget about that which I don’t see or feel everyday.
It took me a trip outside of this Cornell bubble to realize — or remind myself — that, even beyond my great friends and supportive family, the world and the world’s people are awesomely good. Humans (even me!) are optimistic, resilient, giving beings, especially in the face of crisis. So, as Thanksgiving approaches, I am particularly grateful (or more aware of my gratitude, as I imagine it’s always been there) for the goodness of the human race, and I don’t care if that sounds silly. I am.
So, you heard it here first: This is both a New Years resolution and a Thanksgiving resolution. I will actively show gratitude, not just for all that is good in my life, but for all that is good in people. And I hope you will too. Research has shown that we feel happier, more connected and more optimistic when we are thankful for our lives. No matter how cold, grey and grinding our week may be, we can (and should) say thank you. There is too much good floating around not to.
Hannah Deixler is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at email@example.com. Shades of Grey appears alternate Thursdays this semester.