Back when I had the good sense to see a therapist, she made a suggestion that stuck with me. Every year, she said, sit down and compose a list of the 10 things that you are thankful for over the past 12 months. I have composed such a personal list every year since. It is an exercise that keeps me, how shall I put, in balance. It is a sure antidote to anything bringing you down.
So, as 2008 winds to a close, I think this practice may as well as apply to my musings on the large stage of public life playing out be fore me as well. Here is my list of the top 10 things to be thankful for in 2008.
10. Iowa caucus voters. He was black. His middle name was Hussein. And he was running against the formidable Clinton machine. Yet in January 2008 Illinois Sen. Barack Obama won the Iowa Democratic caucuses and catapulted himself to front-runner status for the Democratic presidential nomination. A state that CNN commentator Jack Cafferty that January night characterized as "the whitest state outside of Alaska" gave the nod to a black person seeking the presidency. This was not just news, it proved to be history.
9. Tiger Woods wins the U.S. Open. His doctors had told him he needed to rest, that it would take time to recover from his arthroscopic surgery. Despite a ruptured ACL and other stress fractures, Tiger Woods insisted on playing in the U.S. Open. Even though he did so in what must have been excruciating pain he played to a tie with journeyman pro golfer Rocco Mediate. He subsequently won an 18 hole-play-off in one of the most dramatic and widely watched golfing events of all time. Tiger again proved to be is in class all by himself, a lot like another of 2008's 10 best figures.
8. Sarah Palin. We can thank the Alaska governor for Obama's $150 million September as all the fence sitters and PUMAs (former Hillary Clinton supporters who adopted a "Party Unity My Ass" posture) saw something on the political horizon that finally and authoritatively pushed them into the Obama camp. This is the trailer park that keeps on giving with turkey-grinding photo-ops and drug dealing potential in-laws. I can't wait till 2012!
7. Tom Cruise as Les Grossman. Ben Stiller's Tropic Thunder has been criticized for casting Robert Downey Jr., in "black face" and other politically incorrect gestures. But Tom Cruise, in my mind, steals the show. In a performance as memorable as Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter, Cruise gives an eye-opening, side-splitting, laugh riot of a performance as tyrannical studio executive Grossman. The Golden Globes did not recognize this performance for nothing. Thumbs way up!
6. Hollywood for two major dramatic motion pictures with predominantly black casts, Spike Lee's Miracle at St. Anna's and Darnell Martin's Cadillac Records. Both movies gave us diverse black casts with rich, complex full-bodied personalities on display. Miracle was the first motion picture to move me to tears in a great many years. And both of these films are fine movie making, aiming for so much more artistically than the next wedding fantasy or puerile comedy. More than this, however, each film also puts stories on the big screen on race and the color line in U.S. history that most Americans, including black Americans, know all too little about. Miracle shows us the segregated Jim Crow military units of World War II and the struggle of blacks to be seen as men capable of military service. Cadillac Records shows the appeal of what was once termed "race music" and the bitter struggles black artists endured trying to cross-over and earn what was rightfully theirs in both public recognition and financial reward.
5. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen and the World Champion Boston Celtics. L.A. used to be the "black" team in the NBA. It is now the Boston Celtics. The triumvirate of Garnett, Pierce and Allen give taking it to the hole in Boston an entirely new look and feel. Their utterly dominating performance in the final game against the Lakers in the 2008 championship series set records. Garnett and Pierce in particular, are worthy heroes, having been marquee players for years without finding the teammates and chemistry to be a part of a championship season. In the end, they won decisively. From my vantage point, they deserve recognition simply for rekindling the Boston-L.A. rivalry, something that is good for the entire sport.
4. Tina Fey. Our nation is in your debt. She channeled Sarah Palin in just a remarkable way. Such pitch-perfect political satire is had to find and Fey gave us one of the great political send-ups of all time. Sometimes the absurdity of real events is not sufficiently self-evident and we have to send in the comedians. Bravo, Tina Fey, for keepin' it real!
3. Roy Hargrove and his newest album, Earfood. Trumpet player extraordinaire Roy Hargrove is proof positive that there is still a vibrant heart beating in the world of jazz. His latest album is a masterpiece. I got to see him perform most of the tunes on it live at "Scullers" here in Boston in an absolute tour-de-force performance. He did not even allow an introduction, he just bounded onto the stage promptly at 8:00 pm and starting blowin'. For nearly an hour and half, he and a band that was clearly having fun and challenging one another, gave just a fantastic, throw-down hot performance, filled with energy and passion like I've not seen in years.
2. Colin Powell (and the many other Republican leaders, business people and media outlets) for coming forward to endorse Barack Obama. The roughly seven-minute video clip of Powell explaining to then interim Meet the Press host Tom Brokaw why he was endorsing Barack Obama stands as one of the most remarkable political moments in my life time. When the book is finally written on campaign season 2008 (and perhaps the entire Bush presidency) the basic outline of the tale will be found in this lucid, mesmerizing declaration by a serious man of why he had to back a nominee of a party other than his own.
1. The United States elects its first black president. Despite all of the talk of a "Bradley effect," of white people lying to pollsters, and of social scientists who declared America irredeemably racist, the 44th president of the United States is Barack Hussein Obama, a black man. In the end, Obama will claim 365 electoral votes and 53 percent of the popular vote in an election that for the first time since 1960 saw 60+ percent of registered voters turnout. The most recent poll data from CNN show more than 80 percent of Americans nationwide approve the way he his handling the transition to the White House.
You see, the exercise is worthwhile. One could give into the depressing news as the economy crumbles around us or because there remain U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan or simply because winter has come hard to some parts of the country. Yet, as I see it, some truly remarkable and inspiring things happened in 2008. It all makes me look forward to the world we will all make in 2009.
Lawrence Bobo is the W. E. B. Du Bois Professor of Sociology and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University.