Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Really is About Gravy

"No other word will do, For that's what it was. Gravy.
Gravy, these past ten years.
Alive, sober, working, loving and
being loved by a good woman. Eleven years
ago he was told he had six months to live
at the rate he was going. And he was going
nowhere but down. So he changed his ways
somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest?
After that it was all gravy, every minute
of it, up to and including when he was told about,
well, some things that were breaking down and
building up inside his head. 'Don't weep for me,'
he said to his friends. 'I'm a lucky man.
I've had ten years longer than I or anyone
expected. Pure gravy. And don't forget it.'"
   --Raymond Carver's last poem

Moving is bittersweet. You find yourself excited by new possibilities. But wrenching yourself away from friends and a place where you have lived for over 20 years is not easy. Today I am cleaning out my office. As I look around me I am surrounded by photographs that bring back so many memories. There are photographs of my children at various stages of their lives—and beside them I have added my two grandchildren. I have before me a picture of my ninety-nine year old surrogate mother who left us three years ago. She loved us fiercely.
There are mementos from trips: a gargoyle from Paris, a tiny rock from a pebble beach in England. A photograph of a concrete Jesus with his hands outstretched from St. Andrews. Close by is my appointment book, telephone, faxes machine and computer. These keep me connected with a larger world. On every wall are books that have opened up windows and doors to something larger and better than I ever imagined. I find a dusty Christmas card, unsigned with a huge Santa Claus. The sender could not read or write and just signed an X—and that memory of that friendship keeps me warm. High up on my shelf is an anniversary card from our 50th wedding anniversary with words of love I do not deserve. There is a small picture of my mother’s last Christmas, smiling and surrounded by presents. Underneath the glass on my desk is our last dog’s picture, beloved Cleo. She still makes me smile. These tiny reminders have kept me going year after year.

With eyes wide open I thank God for so much that has streamed into my life. Those that stretched me in school, those that stood by me when nobody else seemed to care. Those that, by the very gift of their lives, made me feel cleaner and more decent. And of course there are the tributaries: magazines, newspapers, and cartoons that helped enormously.

When we open our eyes and look around us most of us find that the blessings have just poured in from all directions. The healthiest people I know keep their eyes wide open not just Thanksgiving Day but keep seeing the wonders around them throughout the year.

Toward the close of his career, it was reported that Mark Twain had been paid a dollar a word for a magazine article. Some cynic sent him a dollar in an envelope with a note: “Dear Mr. Twain I understand you get a dollar for every word you write. I am enclosing a dollar. How about sending me a word.” The old writer took a single sheet of paper and scrawled "Thanks" in large letters and sent it to the man.

Is there a better word for a hard time? This Christmas many of our troops will be hobbling home from Afghanistan and Iraq. Many have been wounded or broken—but all find their lives altered immeasurably. But pain isn’t confined to the war over there. Down the street the Hispanic couple fear for their children and friends in Alabama. Around the corner someone is having an estate sale and moving into a nursing home. A friend in South Carolina lies in intensive care this Thanksgiving missing his wife who was killed days ago in their accident. The Lovette’s moving saga doesn’t seem so monstrous when we put our troubles down beside so many hurting others.

It is easy to be overwhelmed. Months ago I had a funeral for a cousin who just could not take it any longer and I ache when I remember his face. The only way any of us can make it through these difficult days is to open our eyes. If we look long enough thanks may just emerge even from the soil of a very hard time.

Despite the hardship I still think the old Psalm is right. Surely goodness and mercy really do follow us all the days of our lives. Looking any direction. If you stare long enough you may find yourself surprised by joy. For with eyes wide open if we fondle the wonders of our lives much like a rosary— we will be grateful.

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