November 24, 2011
Thursday — Thanksgiving Day
I promise you these days and an understanding
Of light in the twigs after sunfall.
. . .
I promise you old signs and a recognition
Of sun in the seething grass and the wind’s rising.
– Archibald MacLeish, 1892-1982
Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States, the traditional start of the holiday season for me. I have not written often in this space about Thanksgiving. In 2006, ten days beyond learning that yet another friend my age had died, I was consumed by anxiety over making sure everyone I loved knew that I loved them, that every holiday trimming was put in place and every tradition observed and written about. In 2007, I found myself at an artist’s residency in Wyoming, sharing the holiday with five women, all of whom had met barely a week before and whom I would never see nor hear from again. Nevertheless, one of them, the mean girl type who stopped speaking to me about a week later, insisted that we have the whole nine yards of a T-Day dinner, complete with an organic free range turkey that cost $11 a pound.
I cooked my last — in the sense of my most recent — Thanksgiving dinner in 2008, My stepson and his family and Lynn and her then-new boyfriend Matt made for seven at the table. In 2009 Lynn and Ron and I had Thanksgiving dinner with my sister and her family, and last year, for the first time, Ron and I joined Lynn at that same boyfriend’s family’s house, because that was what was best for Lynn and her work schedule. I will not be that mother who expects people to be in two places at once, or to undertake a marathon Turkey Trot that involves two tanks of gas and two (or more) complete sit-down dinners. That plan serves us well again this year.
I took the picture at left at 8:00 this morning. It was not exactly sunfall. I thought that was a poetic word that Archibald MacLeish had invented, and that it might mean the hour when the sun became visible, but evidently “sunfall” is a real word that refers to sunset, the hour when the sun falls below the horizon. But I thought of MacLeish’s poem when I saw the sun blazing forth to me from between two of my favorite trees, the ones directly opposite the place where I sit each morning for my Coffee & Contemplation.
The scene and the quotation seemed to point to something significant, a change, a shift. I had wakened at four, propelled out of sleep by a vivid, detailed dream. I got up, wrote about it for a while, and then went back to bed. So I woke late, and came down to Woodridgehenge.
It’s been a wobbly month for me. I’ve been writing a story that requires a great deal of emotional energy. Other circumstances have sent me into some places in my own psyche that do not see light very often. I’ve made a new will, a process which calls for some serious consideration of both the future and the past. I’ve had some issues with depression and mood regulation that have impelled me, finally, to leave the care of a doctor whom I did not like and did not trust, and engage with one whom I do trust, even if I did yell at him in study hall when he was in tenth grade. Improvement is on the horizon, but I still felt reluctant to undertake all the Holly Jolly the coming weeks require.
Last night I attended the Thanksgiving Eve service at my church. I came very close to not attending this “tender service,” where the offering consists of canned goods and cash to be distributed to “the less fortunate,” a phrase which, considering the abundance and the blessings that are mine, covers a lot of people. In the morning I had a session with my psychologist, the fifth in recent days, then I made a visit to the gravesite of a friend’s father on an important memorial anniversary, did some gift shopping, and so, by 4:00, I was too emotionally drained to accompany some church members to serve a regular Wednesday meal to the homeless. I took a nap, and awoke at 6:00 feeling depressed and weepy, too full of anxiety and self-loathing to go to the soup supper that precedes the service.
But I did go to the service, sang about harvest home and praised God from whom all blessings flow, shook hands, extended wishes for a happy holiday. But I did not cross the sanctuary at the passing of the peace to greet personally two particular women with whom I have experienced some tension these past few weeks, with whom I have exchanged some sharp words and some cold stares at our Thursday morning spiritual study sessions. I was too shy, too anxious, too fearful to make the first move.
As I made my way up the center aisle at the conclusion of the service, one of the women was on her way down, probably on her way to perform the after-service altar care. She stopped, held out her hand, greeted me by name, and smiled. I caught my breath, but tried to return the greeting as if there were nothing unusual about it, as if her graciousness did not surprise me. I was still pondering the exchange, adding it to my list of things to be thankful for, when the other woman caught up with me on the steps. She touched my arm, asked me if I was doing the cooking today, and then remembered that I had said we were going away. She sent good wishes to Ron and to Lynn, by name, and then smiled and embraced me. I have known this woman for more than fifty-five years. She always had a beautiful smile. It was never so beautiful as at that moment.
I woke this morning changed, by the light in the twigs, by a visit of charity, by old signs, by old hurts on their way to a new healing, by a sense of forgiveness for things I have done and things I have left undone. “Advent starts here,” I wrote in my notebook.
Thank you for reading, so much, so often.