As we start the new year, I was struck by the following words of the late comedic actor, writer, and producer Harold Ramis. They’re from a speech he gave during a Thanksgiving service at Am Shalom back in 2006, and his message is still relevant today. (Special thanks to Rabbi Steven Stark Lowenstein for his permission to share it here.)
“When Rabbi Lowenstein asked me to speak here tonight, I wondered what could I say to you that you couldn’t read in six or eight badly rhymed lines on a Hallmark card. And I decided that rather than elaborate on the things I’m already grateful for, I would try to articulate some of the things that I’d like to be grateful for – maybe not this year, or the next, but sometime soon. So, here’s my random list in no particular order:
I’d like to be grateful for an end to violence and a lasting peace in the Middle East that not only recognizes Israel’s right to exist, but acknowledges its miraculous social, agricultural, and technological achievements – and at the same time recognizes the humanity of the Palestinians and their right to form a viable state and bring the blessings of development to a dispossessed and suffering people.
I’d like to be grateful for an end to global warming and the destruction of the physical environment – for a scientific and technological effort on the scale of the Manhattan Project or the Apollo program that taps the best minds in the world for solutions, and then implements them with the full support and commitment of the world’s most powerful governments and corporations.
I’d like to be grateful for a foreign policy driven not just by our strategic interests, but by a real commitment and adherence to the United Nation’s Declaration of Human Rights (you can read it on the UN web site if you don’t know what it is), for an end to the exploitation of children, the subjugation and abuse of women, to brutal ethnic cleansings, terroristic civil wars, and horrific genocides like Rwanda and Darfur.
I’d like to be grateful for the eradication of AIDS and HIV, for a medical Marshall Plan that makes education, medication, and treatment available to people all over the developing world.
And closer to home, I’d like to be grateful for a comprehensive health care system that covers every man, woman, and child in the United States regardless of income, employment, or citizenship. I know Communism didn’t work, but I once got the flu in Sofia, Bulgaria and a doctor made a house call for free and charged me 16 cents for medication. And no one asked my nationality. I guess I can dream.
And I’d like to be grateful for a system of public education that provides for all children what my kids have in our incredible school district.
And I’d like to be grateful for one more hit movie and for the Cubs winning the World Series.
And I’d like to see all this in my lifetime so my children can enjoy this better world in theirs.
And one last thing: I’d like to be grateful for a spirit of activism and personal responsibility that makes us all realize that positive change on a global scale starts with the things every one of us can do in our own families and communities. Today Glencoe, tomorrow the world. As the Buddhists say, we owe infinite gratitude to the past, infinite service to the present, and infinite responsibility to the future. Thank you and may God, whatever you understand that to mean, bless you.”
Ramis’ message speaks not just of hope, but of responsibility and possibility and action — all appropriate for this new year.
[For the complete speech, see Rabbi Lowenstein’s article, A Look Into the Future of Gratitude.]