Little Things on Thanksgiving
There are some things whose measure we only take stock of once or twice a year, when a day set aside as special forces us to remember things that our otherwise busy schedules sometimes forget to pencil in. Today, I walked barefoot in leaves made squishy by rain; I made a face as the cold, wet water ran through the crevices between my toes, faked a shiver and playfully said to my girls, “Eeeww.” They thought it was hysterical. Their reaction made me tip my head downward and I actually looked at the pile of squishy, eewy, wet, cold leaves on top of which I stood. Suddenly, it dawned on me that the leaves weren’t ugly. No, they were actually still colorful: red ones glued together with the orange ones; some simple brown ones thrown in for good measure. Then I saw my pale white foot with its frozen toes in the middle of them and I smiled, this time softly.
I have feet! They may well be ugly, cracked and usually painfully cold but—they work. I can wiggle my toes, I can walk wherever I want to and I can even pick up things with them. Not only that, it gets better. I have feet that can actually feel that the water is cold, the leaves are squishy. I have feet, people! I am happy about that. In fact, suddenly, the cold, wet, squishy leaves didn’t seem so eewy anymore. Though I wasn’t so excited as to allow my girls to lose their feet armor, I myself jumped in the watery pile of leaves, splashed in them, and suddenly myself actually enjoying their feel. I was grateful.
I can tell you from experience, I probably already have, that one of the worst things to lose is a sense of power. When you feel like there’s nothing you can do that’s going to change a situation, when you really and honestly feel helpless, a crack forms within. It gets really hard to trust people because you know you don’t have the power to alter or influence any decision they make, even if it involves you. A sense of power provides confidence. Of all the Bible stories there are, the one that has been ringing in my ears lately is Adam. He was put in charge of naming and caring for all the animals in the Garden. Think about that. I can’t even successfully housetrain one dog. Think of the power that Adam had. Not to even mention Noah, who had to build an ark while being laughed at, then care for the animals while being cooped up, no less. Who gave these men this power? Well, God did, of course. That leads me to believe that we are all supposed to have a sense of power. The trouble is, it can be taken from us. And when it is….. well, gratitude is one of the things that can easily then get lost. But….
Trees, brooks, even a busy highway, are musical all instruments, if I but open my ears to hear them. I don’t only have feet, I have hands, eyes, a mouth, ears, nose. My mind may be a wee bit complicated but… it’s capable of independent thought. I might be a bit on the emotional side at times but at least I am capable of feeling and processing those emotions. I can speak. I can learn. The truth is, I don’t really have to worry so much about having control: I already have all sorts of power—even if only over my own body. That feels me not only with happiness but an immense sense of gratitude, and humility. How many days of the year do I forget all that I’ve been blessed with, all that I have to be thankful, for—-without even mentioning the people around whom I’m surrounded? How much easier would it be to overcome trauma if I could just remember, on a daily basis, that no matter what’s done to me, no matter what my circumstance may be, God gifted me with power. There are, after all, some creatures not capable of feeling, or of enjoying the taste of chocolate; there are creatures not capable of complex thought patterns. I could be one of them. But I’m not. Instead, He designed me to be a live human being, capable of all of those things—and more!
Of course, there are much more obvious things to be grateful for, too….
Tonight, on the eve of Thanksgiving, my mom came and together with the girls, we began making the enormous, way-to-big Thanksgiving dinner. I cooked four different desserts, the dressing, the boiled eggs and the sweet potatoes. The girls are fabulous cooks: they got to use a decorating tool to decorate cupcakes that they made themselves, then they filled the house with laughter for hours as they played in makeshift tents, and with their dolls. Meanwhile, my mom and I worked on preparing the meal. Food has long been my enemy; I do not have a happy past with it. But, tonight, as I washed, measured, whisked and baked, I found myself getting the significance of preparing food with someone you admire and love. You see, it would be a daunting task indeed to find someone who has as much support as I do. There are plenty of people who have more people as family. There are plenty of people whose homes will be filled with more relatives than mine tomorrow night, or any other holiday night. But the people in my family truly love me. I don’t exactly understand why; frankly, I’ve been the source of much heartache for just about everyone I know. Still…. love me, they do. I could spend pages listing the ways they’ve all earned a spot in my list of heroes but, bottom line, they love me and they love me enough to follow up words with actions.
And, of course, my girls..
My daughter Breathe is one of the hardest working people I know, grown or otherwise. She is also very funny. And very sweet: she really cares about what people think. She recently apologized to me because she wanted me to play her favorite game with her for, like, the tenth time that day. She cleans without me asking her to do so. She’s quick to offer assistance and whenever I need a laugh, she is sure to have something funny to say. Animals are precious; her love of them has, in six years, inspired me to become more aware of even the most insignificant of creatures—like worms. She is a conversationalist — some of her happiest moments, in fact, are when we lay on the bed and talk, or tell stories. She’s a wonderful singer. She loves talking to “her kids”, imaginary friends whom she is often teaching. She’s a fantastic swimmer, too, and an intense artist. Most of all, though, she truly loves God. She hears and feels Him in a way that is very special. She’ll often say to me, “I love you more than……well, everybody but God.” She loves having “Bible lessons” where we get on the bed and she reads to me from the Bible and then we discuss the story. She often reminds me of the Jewish people, who treat God as though He is a member of the family instead of a distant king. She loves reminding us to pray before we eat. She is thoughtful. Often times, in the middle of the day, she will impulsively tell her younger sister, Alight, “I love you.” She’s a girly girl who loves to paint nails, play with stuffed animals and baby dolls and really cares about clothes. She wants her space, and sometimes she demands independence and control (I’d have no idea from whom she gets that) , but, at the heart of the matter, she wants to be everyone’s friend. Breathe isn’t just my daughter, she is one of the people I admire the most, the friend that, before she was born, I never had. My life would not be the same without her.
While Breathe is my sensitive flower, Alight is my fearless song. Even when confronted with things that truly scare her, she will not back down. Terrified of Cruella D’ville, she insists on watching the show, saying, “Mommy, just hold me.” She actually rode the Hip Hop Drop (kind of like shock drop) at the amusement park. Unbelievably, she can look at photograph albums forever, loves watching home videos and is a natural born reader if there ever was one: she loves organizing and is a genius at complicated things, like puzzles (she can correctly put together a 50 piece puzzle of the states—unaided and naming several!). She adores her older sister, constantly wanting to copy everything Breathe does. She loves tea parties and going places. She talks like a big girl, holding out a hand and saying primly, “I –already—know that”. She’s funny as can be but her biggest desire is to be held. Lacking none in the confidence department, she’s spreading those wings and testing the limits, all while smiling as sweetly as she can. She is the little peacemaker, usually choosing to give in rather than make someone else angry. She loves trains and dinosaurs, yet must have her special doll Hayden with her. She sleeps with practically twenty “bedtime friends”. She doesn’t want to be last, but she wants everyone to be happy more: she’ll easily give up first place if it means the game can continue. She’s not shy at all about jumping at Mama’s crazy ideas, like painting her entire body, as she enthusiastically encourages her older sister to do it too, saying things like, “It’s more funner this way.” She’s a great chef, too! I could not know full joy or gratitude without Alight.
Thanksgiving is, naturally, a time to be with family and be thankful for that family. There are many without others for whom to cook a feast. This can be a traumatizing, dehumanizing and debilitating season for some. Loneliness is never more acute than when we realize, after all, just how alone we are, compared to the masses. And I know, first hand, what it’s like to spend a holiday traditionally spent with relatives without them. I know what it feels like to be alone because of betrayal and other painful circumstances. So, I am particularly thankful, and humbled, to know that tomorrow, I will my mother, sister, Joe and my girls with whom to celebrate. That said, family isn’t the only thing that I will celebrate, and give thanks for, tomorrow.
These days, if you’re not very careful, it’s easy to start to believe that human kindness is going extinct. It can even be pretty disillusioning. Well, I’ve got news. You, also, might have seen the headlines: “Homeless man returns 3,300 cash”. The homeless man had at least couple hundred things he could have done with three thousand dollars: paid rent somewhere, bought a car, got a job, etc. Big things. Things that might had ended his circumstance. Instead, when he found the money, he considered what to do and then he returned the money saying, “I could’ve done a lot of things with it but none of them would’ve been right.” The money he returned belonged to a college student who wanted to spend the money on a car. Upon receiving the backpack, he said, “Not a dollar was missing.” He gave the homeless man a monetary reward and, perhaps more inspiring, now volunteers at the homeless shelter. Conscience wins; people win. Today, I went to the Publix beside my house. It was packed, naturally. And the people were so friendly. The aisles were crowded, one woman kept apologizing to another woman for the cart that was blocking the aisle, the other woman kept replying with a smile, “Take your time, no hurry.” People I’d never met smiled at me; a man stopped and offered to help me get a heavy item that was stacked high. They say that this is the seasons that people’s stress levels reach their max. But it’s been my experience that it’s the season people see other people. Human kindness isn’t going away; it’s all around us, as long as we have the right perspective. And, for that, I am thankful.
Indeed…. honestly…. what I’m most thankful for at the moment is life.