3254822612_acd6e77782_zDeath happens to the best of us, and also to the worst.

We saw that again last week in Paris, and in Beirut, where hundreds of people going about the business of daily living had the bad fortune to cross paths with fanatics armed with weapons of war and hearts full of hate.

The Grim Reaper is not obliged to give a heads-up that your number’s up. There is always a chance that a marathon in Boston or a church in Charleston will be violated by twisted souls that nobody’s God would claim.

The Grim Reaper outsources only a fraction of his job to nut jobs claiming to be guided by homicidal Higher Authorities. The bulk of his business is done by Alzheimer’s and heart disease and cancer and 57 varieties of addiction.

The Grim Reaper does not respect boundaries. Surprise visits to offices and schools and family vacations are not off limits. He works his regular shift on birthdays, anniversaries, and the occasional bar mitzvah. He does not care that Americans are about to celebrate that most Leo Tolstoy of holidays, Thanksgiving, where “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

This Thanksgiving, as always, happy families count their blessings and carve the turkey, while unhappy families sharpen the long knives and use them on one another. No matter what else might be happening in the world, unhappy families can rarely resist the annual opportunity to eat, drink, and resurrect ancient grievances.

In her brilliant new book Tribal, my colleague Diane Roberts reminds us that much of the human race is hard-wired to believe that God wants bloody vengeance for last week’s defeat on the football field. We should not be surprised that there are people on every continent seeking bloody vengeance for Civil Wars, and Balkan Wars, and wars dating back to the twelve tribes of Israel.

This Thanksgiving, let’s skip the competition for Smartest Guy in the Room and Prettiest Presentation of Green Bean Casserole and focus—really focus—on learning something we didn’t know about someone who shares our holiday table. That’s as close as we can come to cheating death.


Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at lawyerflo@gmail.com

Photo credit: Gregory Bastien.