Overcome by Thanks

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This is a thanksgiving story, but not a traditional one. There are no invading settlers in my story, no artificial reverence for the things we otherwise take for granted. It’s a repetition of my mantra that we only truly give thanks in the in-between moments that comprise the bulk of our lives.

November had granted me another strange morning to visit the world. The temperature was soaring toward heaven at almost 70 degrees. For 3 a.m. on a mid-November morning, it was a gift I didn’t want to squander. I walked the deserted roads without a jacket, cares, or burdens.

Exiting the car, I heard a methodical clang, rendered musical by the wind. I turned to see that it originated from a flag at half-mast across the street, in front of the convenience store at Goad Springs and Monroe. My intention was to walk down the long valley toward Puppy Creek, a beautiful place in the early hours. Instead, I turned north and followed Goad parallel to the distant interstate. I didn’t see a single car until I reached Oakwood, at which point two cars stopped at the 4-way there and seemed determined to wait each other out. Each car flashed its lights at least twice at the other driver before the car ahead of me finally succumbed and passed. Because of this, I turned right onto Oakwood. As I reached the apex of the road on the bridge above the interstate below, I stopped for a moment, as I always do, to admire the wide expanse of asphalt, concrete, commerce and daily lives on display. The wind seemed determined to rip my shirt off at that height, running both below and above the bridge. Below, everything moved faster than nature intended.

I stood atop the piece of the world there, thanking the universe for not infringing upon me with tragic circumstance and for not rendering any part of my body as traitorous. I’ve known too many great people who’ve suffered from accidents, unseen blocked arteries, and misfortune. Loneliness had not visited me, nor hunger or poorness of household or spirit. In my corner of the world, ideas and humor infect so much of my life that there’s little room for other things. Had I often forgotten to feel thanks? Of course, for it is human blood which sustains me. It is our curse to fail to see the whimsical roulette wheel in our lives. One moment, ecstasy – the next, sorrow. For those of us lucky enough, we spin the wheel without too much concern, knowing that the dark placeholder is there, waiting to cloud over us. May the wheel spin so quickly that I can’t discern what’s written there…

I thought back to yesterday when my trip to the craft store provided me with a few moments of hilarity. Most of the faces in the store were frenzied and focused on getting through the lines at maximum speed. Knowing that the universe conspires against those who would pressure it toward acceleration, I languidly waited my turn, listening to the complaints and frustrations of those who weren’t aware that the universe laughs at such concerns. When my turn at the register came, I was pleased to discover that the cashier was desperate for humor and nonsense. Little did she know that I had a buffet loaded with such mirth in my pocket. She asked questions about my purchases, laughing more strongly with each answer. It fascinated her that many of my small items were non-traditional Xmas tree ornaments, including spiders, jewelry broaches, colorful birds, and dragonflies. (Our tree is a testament to strangeness.) She held up a couple of items, asking if they were ½-price or not. I said “Yes,” but pointed out that the birds and a couple of the other items weren’t on sale. I then said, “But if not, you can always just give me the bird.” I laughed and when she looked up, she understood the context of my joke. “Oh, I’ll give you the bird, alright.” The lady behind me in line howled in appreciation. As the manager walked by, I pointed toward my pile of items and said, “The clerk here just gave me the bird.” He laughed and shook his head. At least a dozen people around us were staring, trying to discover how it was that we had unearthed a trove of humor in the middle of that consumerist nightmare.  I was thankful to have enjoyed the moment. The cashier was happy, too. She had also learned that there were so many things that one can use as adornment and decoration if she simply abandoned the idea of ‘normal.’ I’m convinced she left yesterday with the impulse to share this with other people.

Later in the afternoon, my wife and I spent time placing the ornaments I had bought, some in person and some I had created online. All of them were distinct, like the moments that preceded them. We placed lights in jars and glassware, watching the clear glass transform into prisms of color, and light the space. This too was another moment, one worthy of thanks. Behind us, our new Brady Bunch family portrait watched us. “Laugh,” it was saying, repeatedly. The house now approaches a reflection of who I am inside, where eyes don’t reach and where life tends to meet me with a raised hand as if to say “Pause.”

Yesterday, leaving that place which occupies too much of my life in the name of commerce and small pieces of green-tinted paper, I cut across Joyce to the connecting road that leads to Zion. High above, I watched as a hawk circled, dived, and pirouetted in the fast winds. As I approached, the hawk turned lazily toward the road and began a dive. It seemed as if it were heading directly toward me. Faster it came. Just as I was certain it was going to hit my car, it spread its wings wide to slow its descent and extended its talons. It flew so close that for a moment I thought I should put down the windows to permit it to pass through the interior.  The hawk passed in front of me and landed on the bank of the road on the passenger side. I wanted to know if it had trapped something in its talons but the car and road conspired to block it from my view.

This is my incomplete and imperfect thanksgiving message. Much like the holiday itself, it can be overdone and teeter on the edge of gluttony. We focus so much on the periphery of things that we fail to weave our way back to the in-between moments. Our grocery lists and to-do demands distract us from the promise of being around people we value, holding a cup of coffee, tea or soda, each one of us with raised cup and spirits. All the ‘things’ interrupt the regularly scheduled message of shared moments.

As I finished my walk, I looked back in surprise at how far I’d come. Even with my limited grasp of the invisible ties between people, places, and things, I could see the analogy floating in front of me. Anyone who measures their life by the distance traversed is missing out on the craziness and colors of a million successive moments, none of which in themselves are worthy of enshrinement, but if removed from one’s life, would leave a void. The in-between is where we find comfort.

Before going home, I drove and stopped near a creek, took my shoes and socks off and rolled up my pants. Despite being unable to see much of anything, I carefully made my way down into the creek, across slippery stones, and stood. The frigid water lapped at my calves. And so it was that at barely 5 a.m. on a mid-November morning, I was standing in a cold creek, looking up at the sky. It began to sprinkle. Had the creek swallowed me whole at that moment, it would have had to mask my laugh. I was in-between moments, amazed that no one had convinced me when I was young that such moments are more important than diving from airplanes, seeing a waterfall, or sensing the sublime undercurrent beneath things.

When I got back in the car, my feet like blocks of cold granite, and since the car was once again cool, I turned on the radio. “Overcome” by Live was playing. I listened to it for the first time, even though I had heard it a 1,000 times.  I drove home barefooted, absorbing the words. It was an absurd and delightful moment, too.

Arriving home, I stood in the driveway, finishing my bottle of water and experiencing the wind on my bare feet and legs.  As I stood there, two Springdale police cars quickly came around the curve, going fast. I was surprised when the second car braked suddenly, right in front of me. It turned into the driveway across from me and I thought, “Finally, he’s done something inescapable.” Instead of stopping though, the car reversed and headed back in the same direction. The lead police car continued around the large loop on the backside of my neighborhood. It seems as if the universe wanted me to have one more anecdote and one more question, even at 5:34 a.m.

Give thanks.

Live in the in-between and perhaps we will meet there, in laughter.

While my words are imperfectly written, the day itself is not.

The world can wait. It always does, patiently. If you lean in and listen attentively, you can hear the fingers clicking in unison.

 

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