GRATITUDE IS a tricky business, now more than ever. Express thanks that your city is an Amazon HQ2 winner, and your friends may conclude you’re a dupe (along with your city). Praise the glorious fall weather miraculously extending into late November, and you are Mizaru, the monkey who covers his eyes, blind to onrushing climate change. Better maybe to stick with appreciating life’s simplest pleasures — a holiday gathering of relatives (who will stray into politics and ruin everything); the freedoms Americans are privileged to enjoy (if they’re not snuffed out by politicians any moment now); a baby’s smile (providing it’s not gas).
We don’t mean to sound sour on one of the United States’ signature homegrown holidays. There are marvels aplenty worth giving thanks for, encountered in the course of quotidian events and also amid the direst headlines — authentic heroism, real selflessness, genuine altruism.
Think of LaunchGood, the Muslim crowdfunding site, which responded to the massacre at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last month with a campaign that raised so much money, so fast, that its take continually outstripped its repeatedly updated dollar goals. In just six hours, the campaign, called Muslims Unite for Pittsburgh Synagogue, met its initial goal of $25,000. Welcoming contributors of all faiths, it ultimately collected nearly $240,000 from 5,800 donors, three-quarters of them Muslim, with the funds distributed to the families of the Jewish victims by the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh. “When I saw the news, I thought, ‘This could have very well been at a mosque or a Hindu temple,’ ” Tarek El-Messidi, the Muslim American activist who launched the campaign, told The Post.
Or ponder the work of the Migrant Quilt Project, whose self-styled mission is to offer a modest tribute in memory of a luckless cohort that might otherwise remain anonymous: migrants who die each year trying to cross into Arizona along a desolate patch of desert. Their names, some 3,200 since the turn of the century, are collected from the Pima County medical examiner’s office, then quilted one by one by volunteer sewing groups: One quilt annually bears that year’s group in names. The undertaking is organized by Jody Ipsen, who scrounges scraps of discarded clothing from the Sonoran Desert and incorporates them into the quilts, which have been on exhibit in Arizona and elsewhere, an homage to “the lives of those who would otherwise be nameless,” she told The Post.
Research suggests that acts of generosity and empathy give rise to copycats, a phenomenon that Jamil Zaki, a researcher at Stanford University, refers to as “kindness contagion.” It’s pleasant to imagine an actual epidemic along those lines taking hold — compassion so fierce and unrelenting that it sweeps away whatever antibodies of bigotry, cruelty and meanness are lurking across the land.
That prospect might seem fanciful at the moment. Or not, when one stops to think about the crowdfunders and quilters, multiplied ad infinitum, to whom thanks is due on a day made for it.