Just Before We Eat
Thanksgiving day. Woke up slowly, to fat snow falling. Dizzying, storybook snow. I watch it, and it blinds me, as I listen to the news, and pull my quilt up, sipping dark, warm coffee. For the past week, I have had such anxiety pointed at this day. Monday, as my children catapulted themselves from the coffee table to my lap, arms outstretched, laughter ringing, it hit me. I will spend Thanksgiving without a stitch of tradition, without the hum of family of any kind. I won’t be alone, but in the company of friends and kind strangers. I realize that many people who face this holiday with the promise of familial idiosyncrasies may look at my lot and feel jealousy. I can understand. But, this being the first holiday that has been without familiarity, without reliable personalities (good or bad), and without my own children, it hit me harder than I thought. My first (and not last) Thanksgiving, without my children. Monday and Tuesday, I was nearly comatose with sorrow. One of my dearest friends, who is himself carrying a load of personal sadness at the moment, had to come over in the middle of the day on Tuesday, to grab me back into reality.
Add to this the thankless week it has been for everyone. Questionable justice in the death of a young black man, spurring denials of, or fierce arguments against deep seated civil issues in our country. The inevitable inability for people to see, and really see each other. The folly of our own constructs, and our own reactions. Death abroad, by purposeful, dogmatic actions. Death by slow, ignorant waste of resources. Death by accident. Death by natural causes. We’re turkeys, all of us, stuffed with stuffing, our skin blistering, our chests puffed out. How oddly we manage to invite, even as we cook.
I sit now, in my house that still smells from yesterday’s creations: simmering leeks, roasted garlic, unctuous duck fat, and balsamic. And I am looking back on these last few days of confusion with a particular curiosity. The feelings of hopelessness and frustration are not thick today, but they are close memories. Almost too close, and they cause me to wince. Today in the US, whether genuine or contrived, people will put aside all these harder pulsations of life, and mostly soften. Myself included. After all, the very snow outside is insisting of movement. As a flurry, it appears to be falling slowly, but if I track individual flakes, there is such a rush to the fall. Down, down, down, only to be caught in the caked masses silently coating the deck railing, and the table, seeming to actually stop time. How mixed, this message. How brutally nostalgic, yet gently hopeful.
And I wonder: What is the cause of the emotional shifts we need to make, the shifts that keep us breathing? Is it emotional exhaustion? Once at rock bottom, one cannot stay. One must, and will, come up for air. Whether it is just the need for oxygen, or the unbearable weight of despair itself, or the actual realization of a new perspective, or the combination of all these factors, we may never know. But here I am, alive in the snow, and quite unbelievably lucky, despite my trials. Here I am, and the heart always does float. I am sitting here on Thanksgiving Day, feeling thankful. In fact, feeling almost foolish at the cacophony of scattered emotions, even though I cannot deny the reality of my earlier sorrow and despair, and the reality of my current, strange contentment. Wonder of wonders.
I begin designing a ticker tape of gratitude in my head, perhaps out of elementary habit. I find, as I always do, that it will not end. In fact, a short time ago, I attempted to sit down and make a written list of all the individuals who have helped me over the past year, both in small ways, and through large deeds. It remains a worthy exercise, but it also remains a draft, because there really aren’t words for it, and it turns out that I am so very thankful that I am fearful of my own gratitude. It, and the hope it pulls out of the very darkest moments, is larger than I am. And that is also a goodness, to which I’ll happily place myself in service.
Maybe this black sheep of a Thanksgiving has been the best possible landing for me this holiday season. A chance to glance more deeply, and hope more earnestly, and love more genuinely. We will not be able to avoid all these massive problems today, but we will, regardless of our circumstance, just take a time out. Hopefully, in our doing so, we will recognize our own folly, and own it. Hopefully we will question it and laugh at it, shamelessly. May we put this into our blessing, or better yet, spread it out on our laps like a big, silly napkin, cleverly washed and starched of past blunders, just before we eat.