Photo: Barbara Kelley

It’s been a fairly gruesome year—pandemic, lockdowns, economic woe, death and illness. We’ve done a column in past years asking friends and acquaintances what they’re thankful for. This year we emailed a dozen people whom we respect and who know a lot, asking what they’d seen, experienced or realized this annus horribilis that left them moved or grateful. It could be personal or galactic in scope, concrete or abstract, but not political, and it had to be particular to this year.

An investor who feared he wouldn’t see much of his grown kids since they’d flown the coop is awed to be living with them in crowded, happy circumstances. A priest is grateful young people are still coming into the church. A former pollster can’t believe how Zoom kept her far-flung family together.

There was a lot of surprised gratitude for technology. A subtext emerged, unexpected gifts of the pandemic. Most of all and strikingly there was deep gratitude for the people who work on the ground in America, who kept the country functioning. Almost everyone mentioned personal thanks for grocery-store workers and truckers. For eight months we’ve read and heard stories of self-sacrifice and dedication. They have sunk in. I believe the pandemic inched forward a certain cultural shift, a broadened sense of who deserves honor.

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, found himself awed this year by “the resilience of the human spirit”—medical professionals “risking their lives to save others, researchers racing against time for a vaccine, and countless everyday heroes delivering packages, stocking shelves.” Technology helped save the day: “When it was crucial to remain apart, technology brought us closer together in ways unimaginable just a few years ago—helping families stay connected . . . helping us all stay productive, entertained, and healthy.”

In some new way the pandemic helped reveal America to itself. Megan McArdle of the Washington Post, who helped nurse her father through his recovery from Covid: “This year I discovered how courageous people can be in the face of adversity, even grave personal danger. Our institutions may have failed us and our civic trust been savagely corroded, but everywhere you turned there were countless individuals bravely doing what they could for their neighbors. Those fine old words from William Hazlitt finally became a visceral reality for me: ‘I do not love war, but I love the courage with which men face war.’ America, I hate this pandemic but I adore your bravery, and am grateful to you for showing it to me.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said, “I’m grateful for people like Recto. Recto is a home health care worker who, before Covid, took a bus every day to care for two elderly people. When COVID hit New York City his bus route was cancelled, so he took money out of his own pocket to pay for a cab to and from, helping these people who depended on his care.”

Early in the pandemic this column asked political figures to note who was getting us through it, and to take action to help those here illegally. If you can show through pay stub or attesting letter that you worked during the pandemic of 2020, you are thereby granted full citizenship with no fines, fees or penalties. We asked a note be stapled on top: “With thanks from your grateful countrymen.” Mo Rocca of “CBS News Sunday Morning,” who is especially grateful to delivery people, had a better idea. A new immigration policy “damn well better include automatic citizenship,” for those who worked the pandemic but it should come with “a gift bag. Like a super blingy Oscar gift bag.”

Father Roger Landry, a Massachusetts priest working at the United Nations, spoke of the courage of police officers, doormen, waiters and chaplains. “Courage is not the absence of fear but doing what one should despite one’s fears. I’m grateful for those who boldly carried on while others cowered.” For some, the pandemic was a spiritual catalyst: “In the midst of widespread spiritual lockdown the hunger of so many for God was stoked.” People “started asking deeper questions about life, death and suffering, how to be selfless, to grieve with hope.” He has this year accompanied “several newly restless hearts to find the God for whom their hearts were made.”

Here are some gifts of the pandemic:

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wound up knowing those he knows more deeply. “I watched the extraordinary generosity of friends and neighbors who helped people in desperate financial and spiritual despair because of the pandemic. It reminded me that Americans continue to be the most generous people in the world—not only financially but emotionally.”

Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska: “My 97 year old mom entered assisted living on Dec 30, 2019. The Senate’s April recess due to Covid gave me time to begin sorting through more than 60 years of memories in my childhood home.” She did office work online and by phone. “My parents kept everything—WW II letters, family photos, vacation scrapbooks. Toys and blue ribbons. It was a gift.” She’d show her mother what she’d found, and her mother would marvel. “I found the top of their wedding cake—a soldier in uniform standing next to his bride.” It was on a basement shelf. It’s made of ceramic or clay. Fischer now keeps it under a little glass dome. She found the letters her father wrote during the war: “ ‘My darling’ was his salutation.” She found her mother’s sewing box.

For Jason Gay, the Journal’s sports columnist, the lockdown carried unexpected opportunity. “This was a year of family fishing. I’d resisted it all my life—my late father loved to fish, and I couldn’t be bothered. But now my seven year old son is crazy for it, and my father is up there somewhere laughing. I grew to love the chase, and the disconnect of the natural world. Fish don’t know it’s 2020. I don’t even think fish watch cable news.”

For Willie Geist of NBC News, a fruitful, poignant conversation. “In late September, I was walking the halls of the eerily empty 30 Rockefeller Center when I ran into Herman Pinckney, a beloved custodian in the building. I was surprised when Herman told me he would retire in a couple of days, without fanfare, after 48 years on the job. As he reminisced through a mask, Herman said of the country, ‘I’ve seen a lot. We’re gonna be OK.’ I felt better immediately.”

For me this holiday weekend is quieter than usual, a traditional, raucous house party pushed back. It’s reminded all of us how we cherished our old lives of bubbling affection, and how grateful we’ll be when they return.

For now life wants to increase itself. Our trusty editor of 20 years, James Taranto, wed Anastasia, “the love of my life,” on the Fourth of July. The journalists Betsy Woodruff Swan and her husband, Jonathan, became parents of a baby girl. “At a time when it feels like death is everywhere,” she wrote, “we are incredibly grateful for the gift of a new life.”

Welcome to the world, Miss Esther Swan, a place that is more tender and beautiful than it always appears.

Wonder Land: At the risk of arousing the dark side, 2020’s election results are reason for conservative optimism. Images: Congressional Quarterly via ZUMA Press/Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly[object Object]