Woog's World: Still a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving

From that first harvest celebration in 1621, through Abraham Lincoln’s Civil War proclamation and beyond, Thanksgiving has weathered many storms.

Americans celebrated the holiday during wars, depressions and other calamities. In 1963, we gathered together less than a week after President Kennedy was killed. In 2001, our nation still reeled from 9/11.

Rarely, though, have we given thanks during a pandemic. A quarter of a million relatives, neighbors and friends have died since spring. The darkness of the coming winter is both metaphorical and real. As if that’s not enough, an enormous swath of the country still does not believe that the man who earned six million more votes than his opponent actually won the presidential election.

So what do we have to be thankful for?

Plenty.

Of course, the coronavirus is real. Westport is not immune. We snagged the national spotlight in those first, frantic March days. A house party with international guests introduced us to the terms “super spreader” and “hot zone.” We led the state in cases. Our schools closed before most other districts.

A few days later, beautiful spring weather brought hundreds of residents to Compo Beach. The town closed the lot, so drivers parked along Soundview Drive. Police issued tickets. At the same time we battled COVID, we were playing whack-a-mole.

But we’re a different town in November than we were in March. We’ve gotten the message. We got our act together. We grew up.

So - as we sit around our much smaller tables this week, missing everyone who can’t join us, and worrying what the new year will bring - we realize we have plenty of reasons to give thanks.

Our town officials have been proactive. From the first selectman and Westport Weston Health District director to the head of Parks and Recreation, elected and appointed leaders have been forced to make very tough decisions. Any option is bound to please some residents, anger others, and leave still others confused. Collateral damage is real; so are unintended consequences. But decisions were made. Positive results followed.

Special props to our new superintendent of schools, Tom Scarice. He accepted the job knowing he’d face many Big Issues - in addition to the in-person/hybrid/distance debate, one of our two middle schools is still being renovated - and he did not shirk any of them. Just as importantly, he communicates clearly and often about every curveball thrown his way. The past months have been an education for us all, but we are thankful to have an education leader at the plate.

The past months have also demonstrated the crucial importance of the often invisible men and women who make our town go. It took a pandemic for us to realize that the men and women who take buses from Bridgeport to CVS or Fresh Market, stand on their feet all day, perform many boring tasks and serve many demanding customers, are indispensable to our lives. We thank them more often these days, but seldom enough.

We are thankful for the merchants and restaurant owners who persevere day after day, despite incalculable odds. They’ve redesigned their stores, built outdoor dining areas, figured out curbside deliveries, navigated ever-changing rules - and done it all while juggling their own responsibilities outside of the workplace. I don’t know how they do it, but we would not be where we are without them.

We should definitely be thankful for our first responders. EMTs and firefighters have vast new duties - and worries - these days. And when the nation was galvanized with social protests this summer (one more 2020 spasm), Police Chief Foti Koskinas and his department listened, learned and kept the peace.

Not everyone wears masks or practices social distancing. Some adults are poor role models. But for the many who do understand the stakes - who keep their kids home, keep their families away from others, and keep insisting that the rules be followed - we are both thankful and grateful.

Perhaps the biggest thanks go to Westport’s children and teenagers. It breaks my heart to see pre-schoolers wearing masks; to watch elementary school kids riding buses alone; to see middle schoolers unable to expend all their excess energy with friends, and to see Staples High School students lose sports, musical shows, clubs, homecoming, proms, parties, and everything else that makes growing up fun.

The Westport youngsters I know have handled this life-altering pandemic with grace and poise. They don’t like it, but they get it. They understand all that is gone, and they are thankful for what remains.

Those are some thanks to remember this season. And remember too: We’ve gotten through tough Thanksgivings before. Thanks to so many wonderful Westport examples, we’ll do it again.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.