HELP LINE: Look for things to be grateful for


What do you mean, “For what?”

Thanksgiving, obviously. It’s this coming Thursday.

So, are we ready?

And that little exchange just evoked a range of reactions, beginning somewhere around giddy anticipation and ending in the vicinity of dark black dread.

But most of us are right where we usually are: in the space in between.

For many of us, the eternal icons of the season can become a bit … wearing: Pilgrims and Native Americans, turkeys and pumpkin pies, and then, of course, there’s the mother of all holiday icons: Norman Rockwell paintings.

I know you know.

People who don’t even want to know, know: Those quintessential, aren’t we all one big happy family, “Good night, JohnBoy” illustrations that just reek of classic, imagined Americana.

And that, in all probability, rarely if ever existed.

But they set the standard. The standard that way too many of us try to meet — to create — every single Thanksgiving (and, probably, Christmas, etc.)

We want to live out that fantasy. Who wouldn’t?

And it almost never happens.

It almost never happens because people have lives. People have jobs, kids, travel, time off, money and living a gazillion miles apart and … and maybe because all those happy family members aren’t all that happy with one another.

Maybe they never were.

Maybe it’s because of this-or-that grievance or offense, or side-taking or unfortunate remark, or a lifelong history of dysfunctional stuff.

Who knows? But it damn sure ain’t Norman Rockwell.

But we try. Or do we?

Let me address people like me; specifically, older guys.

Older than what? I don’t know, but we know.

Maybe we’re retired, maybe we’re not. But here’s something I’ve seen over and over again: We embrace the character of the grumpy old man.

We decide that we want to be the curmudgeon.

And we like words such as “crabby,” “irascible,” “bah, humbug” and/or … you know exactly what I mean.

Why do so many of us do that?

Is it our aches and pains? Our various diagnoses, limitations and medications?

Is it the realization that we will never again be able to do what we used to do, easily?

That those days are gone and will never come back and we are PO’ed about it?

Is it that we’ve learned that the world can be cruel? Unfair? Unforgiving?

That enough was never enough and here we are, not being “enough?”

Oh, sure: Men don’t have a lock on this “orn’ry ‘ole coot” routine — we see it with plenty of women, too — but I’m going to talk about men, because I am one.

Why are we so quick to become that?

I don’t know. And, upon reflection, I don’t think I care.

I don’t care because Thursday is Thanksgiving Day. And the older I get, the less likely I am to choose to be cynical.

Sure, it’s easy.

It’s easy to be sarcastic and pitch wisecracks and come across as oh so sophisticated, but to what end?

Does it make us feel smart?

Or does it validate the fact that we’ve earned the right to be cynical: We’ve fought, tried, worked, done the best we could, kept on going, worked and tried and … we have a right to be grumpy old men.

OK, maybe that’s true, but what if we didn’t?

What if we acted happy? Or, at least, reasonably content or upbeat?

What then?

“What do you expect me to do? Pretend?”

Yes, that’s exactly what I expect you to do: Pretend.

In one of the many parallel universes that exist on this planet, there’s a saying that goes like this: “Act the way you want to be and, soon, you’ll be the way you act.”

We can’t find anything to be thankful for? Nothing?

We can’t come up with a single thing that would make us think, “Wow. I really am a lucky guy?”

That’s BS.

We can, if we choose to.

And we can choose not to pollute the people around us with our own dark imaginings.

We can choose to smile and choose to participate and choose … life.

And if that takes pretending, then get on with it, because I can promise you this: Our lives will proceed according to our intentions for them.

And I refuse to be a grumpy old man.

Because, when I go to bed Thursday night with my aches and pains, at least I’ll know that I was not a pain in other peoples’ necks.

And that might just be another word for love.


Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing

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