After a tough year, it's time to count the blessings

Surprisingly, the holiday season is once again upon us. (One of the blessings of middle age is that time goes faster and faster. Years tear by like sheets blowing off a calendar in an old movie, and good riddance.) To put it mildly, 2004 has not been my favorite year, but I've never done a Why I'm Thankful piece, as is my bounden duty as a columnist. So:

· I am thankful that Yasser Arafat is dead. I don't mean that I'm happy he died, although I do ardently hope that he and Ariel Sharon share a spit in hell. No, I'm just happy not to be pelted anymore by health bulletins about one of the least popular individuals in the Western world. Day after day, his diagnosis was headline news: Did he have leukemia? Doctors think he may have leukemia. No, wait, he doesn't have leukemia. Could he have been poisoned? The last seemed plausible: The grabbing and nastiness surrounding his deathbed was worthy of the last days of a Renaissance pope.

But really, who cared what was wrong with him? Whether a firm diagnosis of leukemia would have been bad or good news, I could never figure out--what were they going to do, start tormenting him with chemo? The facts were that he was old, had become very frail and had a platelet count inconsistent with continued life. In short, he was dying. In a way, it was a fitting end for a man responsible for the spilling of so much good, red blood.

· I am grateful that the election and the glut of news in the last six months knocked both Scott Peterson and Michael Jackson out of the headlines. We're spared not one but two trials of the century, showing once again that it's an ill wind that blows no one any good.

· I'm grateful for the Internet, where I'm doing all my shopping this year. It's disloyal, I know, but the traffic on Broadway Boulevard, the lines at the post office, the desperate searches in the junk drawer for the packaging tape that was there yesterday--they contribute nothing to my holiday spirit. The sights and smells and sounds of Christmas in the malls don't increase my stash of goodwill toward men, either. My goal this holiday season is not to hear a single note of Christmas music before Christmas Eve, at which time I will enjoy it very much. My husband, the scornful agnostic, adores the stuff, so this may involve me, the one who tears up thinking about baby Jesus, moving into a motel once we get the tree up.

· In retrospect, I am thankful that George Bush won the election. Why should a Democrat get blamed for the next four years? The country's going to hell in a handbasket, so let the pack of thieves who set it sliding try to put on the brakes. And let's just see how they get us out of their splendid little war. After warning, and worrying, and preaching about the war since the first rumor of it, I am tasting the bitter pleasures of having been right. I wish very much that I'd been wrong.

· I am thankful to have been born American, thankful to have grown up free and well-fed, thankful not to live anywhere else--not Canada, not Australia, not even New Zealand. I am sorry that, as a liberal, I feel the need to state what should go without saying: I love my country dearly. But I also feel less isolated than I did before the campaign. I am very thankful that the left--which now seems to consist of everyone who doesn't believe the president to be divinely inspired--seems to have recovered its sense of self and its will to fight.

· I am grateful and happy that Chris Limberis is well again. Aside from being a great newspaperman, he's one of the best and bravest guys on Earth.

· I am thankful for the good rains we've had this fall. Another soaker before the new year, and we may have a good bloom in the spring in spite of the drought. The avid little desert annuals could care less about climate change: Give them a few well-timed rains over the fall and winter and, bam!--they're up and blooming and making seeds like nobody's business. I remember a good spring years ago, 1974 maybe, and looking down from Kitt Peak on whole valleys orange with poppies. Let's hope.

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