Grateful and Fortunate

by Neil Wehneman

For the second straight year, I get to spend my Thanksgiving home alone due to illness and not wanting to subject myself to the six hours of driving needed to get to my planned Thanksgiving lunch. (Sorry aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandma! I’ll call soon to catch up, I promise!)

I appreciated that Greta Christina’s thoughts on Feeling Thankful in a Godless World was one of the first articles I read in my news feed this morning.

And with that spirit, as I await my Thanksgiving frozen pizza to cook, I thought I’d think a bit on what I am grateful for and fortunate to have received.

  1. I am fortunate to have not only existed in the first place, but to have received fairly good genes. There’s definitely an undercurrent of mental health concerns in there, but aside from that, I’ve made it thirty-two years with relatively high intelligence and no other major health scares.
  2. I am grateful that my mother married my stepfather. Yes, the man was horribly emotionally abusive, telling me near daily how he had no obligation to love me, and that God had placed him over me as a drill sergeant, and how worthless and awful of a child I was (all the way through high school). But for all that, he brought a measure of financial resources and a house with upper-middle class suburban schools.
  3. I am grateful to my brother, two and a half years older but a bit of a functional father figure. He was the one who dragged me to the ER in late 1999, the first time I was admitted against my will. He’s given (generally good) advice on a range of topics over the years.
  4. I am beyond words grateful to the small number of friends, my brother included, who took panicked or incredibly depressive phone calls at wholly inappropriate hours from (mostly) 1999 to 2003. No friend should ever have to go through that. To say that I owe them my life is the only adequate phrase.
  5. I am grateful to the slightly larger number of friends who have decided to stick with me for twenty years or longer.
  6. I am grateful to those friends still willing to take a call when I’m having trouble processing my life.
  7. I am grateful to those friends in Indianapolis who were true friends as I began my de-conversion.
  8. I am grateful to my friends who provided their legal skills to shepherd me through the early days and weeks of divorce, as I was still seeing stars and could not even begin to process. I am grateful to one friend in particular for somehow finding a way to thread the needle of being both my friend and my attorney as we trudged through.
  9. I am grateful to the lifelong friend who gave me a place to stay when I decided Columbus was where I wanted to re-group.
  10. I am grateful to the many friends who shared beers and messages with me as I tried desperately to re-learn sex and dating at age 30.
  11. I am grateful to my mother for her financial support as I rebuilt my life.
  12. I was fortunate to run into Ashley Paramore at a Columbus skeptics event, and grateful that she cared enough about the Secular Student Alliance to talk with me about it and get me involved. I was fortunate that I had decided to move on from my then-current employer at about the same time that she decided to move cross-country and vacate her position as Development Director.
  13. I am grateful and was fortunate for the mix of education, experience, and training that led to me being the top candidate for the Development Director position.
  14. I am grateful that the Founders got a legal-political system right enough that, after over two hundred years of continuing struggle and effort by a variety of people pushing forward many social justice causes, I can live a relatively normal life as openly atheist and polyamorous.
  15. I am saddened that this relatively normal life is not available to all people throughout the entire country and the entire world. I am grateful for the efforts of others, within the secular movement and outside of it, who are working with me to change that.
  16. I am grateful for the work of scientists, doctors, and their funders (from donors to taxpayers) that have advanced the state of the medical art to the point where my niece still has a fighting chance against Stage IV cancer. I am grateful to everyone who has supported Harper and her parents and sisters, regardless of the methods you’ve employed.
  17. I am grateful to the numerous friends and peers I have made in 2013, including but not limited to my co-workers and Board Members. I remain in awe that I get to work with you all and occasionally share meals or drinks where we talk about a variety of important and worthwhile topics (from atheism to sex to board games).
  18. I am grateful to our entire base of donors, who have entrusted us to advance and build the secular movement through the work of student leaders. I do my best everyday to earn your continued trust and take full advantage of the incredible opportunity before us.
  19. I am extremely grateful that a peer in the movement felt I was worth talking and spending time with, even when I was so shy about buying her a drink that I ended up buying our entire group drinks instead. You and our relationship means a lot to me, Heina, and that’s not just the NRE talking.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving, folks. However you celebrate it, or with whom, you may have more to be grateful and fortunate for than you initially realize. I know that was the case with me.

Note: Heina okayed the last bullet point prior to posting. Also, local friends invited me to join them for a late lunch as I was writing, so it looks like the frozen pizza will have to wait :-).