Elections take toll on gratitude

I’m embarrassed to admit my gratitude has been in short supply these days. As the days tick closer to Thanksgiving, the annual reminder to be grateful for all that we have, I’ve been made painfully aware of that.

The cantankerous mood that always seems to accompany an election season got its tentacles into me this year, and it’s taking some time to shake them off. We have been through months of he said, she said. Of hearing from readers angry over things we have published. Of navigating candidates pushing to have their agendas heard. Of pleas to help right the wrongs that take place on the campaign trail. Add in trying to find a rhythm with new job responsibilities, Halloween season and parenting a toddler who has had far more sick days than I ever anticipated, and it’s not surprising that I’ve been on the defensive. It’s called self-preservation. And it’s not much fun.

I remember back in the late 1990s when I worked at a big box bookstore while going to college. There was this book that seemed to have an endless run on the best seller list, a gratitude journal that was a companion book to a collection of essays meant for daily reflection. I would scoff at all these middle-aged ladies buying this book in droves. It seemed like a silly waste of time to me, needing to go and buy a journal that tells you to write down the things you were thankful for. Oh, the arrogance of being 20 years old and not knowing what it is like to balance the demands of a career with teaching a tiny human to do things like be kind and use a fork. In the heat of the battle it’s easy to overlook what’s going right.

It has also been my experience that when you forget to be thankful, you can also find the kindness in your life slipping away as you feel too busy or overwhelmed to go the extra mile. Last Thursday I needed to break out of my isolation at my desk, feeling pretty disconnected from the community I cover after logging way too much time in my cubicle during election week.

So I took a late lunch and ran a few errands. I poked my head in a couple of shops in downtown Anoka. In Peterson Shoes ladies were looking at cute boots. Nobody was discussing an election race of any kind. I stopped to grab a cup of coffee. There was no pontificating about politics. A couple of teenage boys were at the counter, flirting with the barista while having a philosophical discussion about a band’s music. That half-hour was a refreshing reminder that while politics are important, it’s not the only game in town.

On my way back to the office I came up to the red light near Lincoln Elementary School for the Arts, where two women had stopped to help a man in need. It appeared he was having trouble with his motorized scooter, that maybe it had been stuck. These ladies quickly got him on his way.

Nothing surprised me about this act of kindness. This kind of thing happens all the time. But it was an important personal reminder of all the times someone has gone out of their way to help me. More than six years ago I was at the Amtrak station with my husband (then fiancé) in Rugby, N.D., dropping him off to catch the 10 p.m. train back to the Twin Cities. It was late and it was cold, so I decided to head home before the train arrived. Only my car wouldn’t start.

So as we were debating what to do we could see the headlights coming down the track. We had a minute to figure it out since there’s only one eastbound train a day. My husband walked up to a couple on the platform and asked them to help me.

They turned out to be pastors at a rural church outside Dunseith, N.D. They were in Rugby to drop off their daughter, who was headed back to Chicago.

They insisted on driving me home — 60 miles one way and through an international border crossing. Risky on my part, perhaps. But I trusted my instincts.

This is a great time of year to recall not just those grand acts of kindness, but also the small ones that happen every day just when we need them. — Mandy Moran Froemming, ECM Publishers