Giving Thanks Amidst America’s Ironies

Some thoughts on an American holiday. [~700 words.]

simpsons

My partner makes fun of me endlessly because I have my clock radio set to a classical station like an old lady. Whether or not I am actually a crone in a maiden’s body is up for debate, but “The Promise of Living” came on today and had me crying in bed before I even got up.

I’m don’t normally cry at any old chamber piece, I promise. I played this song as part of our major contest show–the music of Aaron Copland–my senior year in marching band. Aside from marking the (merciful) end of high school for me, all of Copland’s music evokes so many things for me: the power of music, the bonds of community, and the memory of a dear friend.

One of the other seniors in that show didn’t make it to graduation that year. Due to a sort of freak medical thing, my pal Nick passed away in the spring after we played this show. It’s been like 5 and a half years, but I still think about him a lot. One of the biggest things I took away from losing someone so close so unexpectedly was a reevaluation of what life even is, even means.

malcolm

Fig. 1: Chaos Theory

I don’t wanna get too philosophical here, but the last year of my life has especially heightened my sense that there really are no promises in life, no sure things. PP If there’s anything resembling a promise to life, it is life itself. I mean this in the sort of Dr. Ian Malcom sense of things: “Life, uh, uh, finds a way,” as Jeff Goldblum would say. I mean, this song is a take off of an old Shaker Hymn that been written & re-written so many times that even Weezer has a variation of it.

My point is that I’m feeling really grateful for all the wonderful people in my life today. But I’m also feeling grateful that the bullshit I’ve dealt with up to this point hasn’t been too much for me to handle, but just enough to make me who I am. PP I have a lot of concerns about what the future looks like. Hell, I’m pretty freaked out and disgusted by the present, too.

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday, and I think that really rings true for me. Because I don’t really think what defines America is greatness. To me, America is defined more than anything else by irony. That’s what’s followed us since Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence (i.e., Declaration of Irony?), when a bunch of slaveowners demanded freedom.

hipster-tj

Fig. 2: Was into ironies of American politics before it was cool

That same irony continues to dog us today, as Native Americans are being attacked for protecting their sacred, sovereign lands and we await the inauguration of a billionaire President, who convinced out-of-work white supremacists (however closeted they may be about that) that he could return them to glory (or at least factory jobs).

It’s irony that laughs as we complain about Black Friday encroaching further and further into Thanksgiving as Christmas decorations seem destined to depart the seasonal section of stores for a more permanent posting.

It’s irony that looks at the camera like Jim on The Office when people are amazed that bigotry and hatred still have so much power in our world, in our nation, and in our neighbor’s hearts.

jim

Fig. 3: But will irony end up with Pam?

This is why I roll my eyes at every viral thinkpiece about the death of irony. Irony is not something that can be argued for or against. It is something that is tapped into, often without intent.

It was irony that helped me to understand how I could lose a 17-year-old friend to a brain aneurysm. It’s irony that eventually crept into my understanding of American history, showing me a way to believe in the theory of a nation but still have a lot of issues with its practice. And it’s irony that gives me context for the political reality I’m facing now.

Irony, more than anything else, may be the promise of living. Because, at its most textbook definition, irony is the opposite of what we expect–and that’s what life feels like to me.

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