When you dare write a column about “Thanksgiving 2020” it is impossible for your brain not to be inundated with all of those old jokes about oxymorons:
Such as “jumbo shrimp.”
And “working journalist.”
And “deafening silence.”
And “old news.”
Thanksgiving 2020? Pausing to give thanks for a year — at least from around March 1 on — that has provided daily doses of fear, loathing, sadness, anger, loss, grief, despair, and dejection (and that’s just an emotional starter set right there)?
A year when what used to be a charter member of those oxymoron jokes — “small crowd” — has become even more so, as in “no crowds,” at least when it comes to baseball parks and football stadiums, basketball field houses and hockey arenas, concert halls and theaters?
Giving thanks for these last nine months could actually seem like an old Delta House initiation ritual, day after day of bad news and sad news, week after week of discouragement and disgust, month after month of wanting to scream at the top of your lungs “ENOUGH …”
“Thank you, sir, may I have another?!”
Yes. It’s easy to fall into that trap.
And yet it was a memory from the darkest day I experienced all year — not a small collection of days, admittedly, but the clear No. 1 — that served as an essential reminder of why it is every bit as important to be grateful and thankful on this day during what feels like an endless period of darkness as it is when times are good, flush and bursting with joy.
This was Easter Sunday, April 12. I had just collapsed into my couch, limp and exhausted, having been handed the high honor of memorializing Anthony J. Causi’s life in a column. Anthony, you surely know, contracted COVID-19 early in this scourge, fought valiantly for weeks, and had finally lost that fight an hour or so earlier.
On my phone, I had a folder of photos Anthony had sent me periodically through the years. He did that, you know. He was as gifted and accomplished an artist as anyone who’s ever breathed New York’s air, but what he wanted most out of life was to share that talent with … well, with everyone: family, friends, strangers, random citizens walking in Central Park, anonymous fans descending from the 4 Train into Yankee Stadium.
And I saw one of the first pictures he ever sent me, from the last weekend in September 2015, on the field at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park. There is a small crowd around David Wright, enjoying the final spasm of a prosperous but pain-filled career. Among the inquisitors are me and fellow Postie Zach Braziller.
I smiled. And I went back through old stacks of e-mails and found the note Anthony had included when he sent that.
“Can you believe we actually get paid for nights like that one? I won’t tell anyone if you don’t. Can’t wait to do it again with you and the crew sometime soon. Preferably somewhere on the road, with another heaping pile of ribs!”
I think of that now, typing this column, because I can’t help it: Even a year of such endless challenge brings gratitude, and thanks, maybe not as they would normally seem but they are, in fact, there.
I have written too many columns about loss this year — Anthony at the top, but also Don Larsen, who died on New Year’s Day; Tom Seaver, the greatest Met of all; Whitey Ford, the greatest Yankees pitcher ever; Paul Hornung, forever the Golden Boy. But I have been so lucky in my life: I met all of these amazing people, talked to them, was able to give a dash of perspective to the tributes I would write about them.
I have written too many columns wondering if sports could come back, if they would come back, if they should come back. And yet while there is no definitive answer to any of that, I admit: I am glad they are with us. I was grateful to be able to go to baseball games this year, however eerie the empty stadiums were. Football season has been a mess, but in writing about mundane issues like winning and losing — mostly losing — it’s felt like I’ve done my duty to keep everything else in our fractured world in proper perspective.
As always, I have the very best readers, some regulars, some once-in-a-while essayists, some who lead with kindness and some who simply need to remind me that I am a “[email protected]&#.” The readers are the blessing. The readers are the gift. My friend Anthony learned this long before I did. One time at spring training I saw him stuffing an envelope with a print he’d made for a reader on his own dime and I asked, simply, “Why?”
“Think about it?” he said. “Where would you and I be without them?”
Where, indeed. Happy Thanksgiving 2020.
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