Gratitude, Don’t Leave Home without It

Twenty-five years ago, our youngest daughter suffered dozens of critical injuries in a car crash. Luckily, she was quickly rescued and treated by some of Denver’s most dedicated and talented police, firefighters, EMTs, and doctors. After she had been released by the hospital, Denver General, and was on the road to recovery, I began an effort to thank the people involved in her rescue and recovery. My motivation was not as self-inspired as I wish. When we were waiting for our daughter to regain consciousness in Denver General’s brand new ICU, I noticed a picture of a young man on crutches stuck to a post in the middle of the sparkling, hyper-busy, multi-million dollar ICU. It was an unprofessional photo in a cheap 8x10 plastic frame with a small note from the parents of the young man, thanking the medical personnel for their dedication and for their son’s life. After reading that note and seeing how special it was to the people who worked in one of the country’s busiest and most sophisticated hospitals, I started bringing in pastries every morning while our daughter was in the ICU. For several years afterwards, I sent the Denver General ICU a picture of our daughter with an update on the life they had given her and a box of artery-clogging pastries from one of our favorite Denver shops.

That got me into a cycle of trying to identify everyone involved in my daughter’s rescue so that she and I could thank them. What I learned from that was that of the three million people living in the Denver area and however many thousands of people rescued by first responders, almost nobody felt particularly grateful when they or a loved one was rescued, kept alive, brought back to life, and/or returned to good health from near death or terrible injury. The chief of the fire department that cracked open my daughter’s demolished pickup, extracted her from the wreckage, and delivered her to the helicopter the moment it arrived at the scene (14 minutes after the crash) had been with the Denver fire department for 40 years. During his career, the only time a citizen had contacted him about any of the thousands of rescues he’d been involved in was a lawyer delivering a lawsuit summons.

The same goes for the citizens who take on the responsibility of running our cities, counties, states, and the federal government. At the lowest level, it’s a thankless job that sets up the office holders for disrespect and abuse without much return on the time and energy investment. At the highest level, as we saw in the 2016 election, the more service and committment a candidate has given to the community and the country the worse that candidate is treated by both the media and the voters. There is a price for creating a society where greed, ignorance, and narcissim are valued characteristics: that price is best described by “we get the government we deserve.”

A recent editorial in my local newspaper, “Thank Our Elected Officials,” was a timely and decent reminder that we can disagree with our elected officials while still respecting them and appreciating their service. There is no such thing as a successful non-participatory democracy and Americans better either step-up to the responsibilities of maintaining that form of government or we’ll have to relearn that, as disorderly and inefficient as democracy is, it is far better than the alternatives.

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