That’s not a typo.
If you start with the baseline of being both surprised and grateful just to be alive, being thankful is guaranteed.
That’s not a typo.
If you start with the baseline of being both surprised and grateful just to be alive, being thankful is guaranteed.
(This is another inspired story, from a stolen picture…)
She’d been gone five long years. Jane. To think her name caused John’s head to pulse with remembrance.
John stood at the low curb, looking up at the tree. Jane’s father Jack planted it when her parents owned the suburban house. Jane shyly let John kiss her for the first time under that tree, one Thanksgiving afternoon. There were many more such moments, each melting into the next.
A month before their wedding, her parents told them, “The house is yours. Fill it with love and children, if that’s what you want.”
They moved in three days after their simple wedding. Every fall, John jokingly complained about the mountain of leaves that the vibrant tree produced. Jane laughed like she always did, knowing that he’d faithfully rake and mulch the crimson leaves. Eventually. Often, they were still piled dutifully, awaiting John’s attention, by the time Thanksgiving graced the calendar.
After the diagnosis, John went outside each night to stand under the tree and imagine how it must feel to spend one’s entire life without fearing the next day. Or whatever day would bring finality to the love of his life.
Five years later, he stood with his hand on his daughter Jenny’s shoulder, pointing up at the polychromatic leaves. “Your mother loved this tree, Jenny, like she loved you. When the leaves fall, it’s your mom telling you that everything has its season.”
Jenny looked at the tree, then at John. “Oh Daddy, you’re so cute!”
May every crimson leave bear your name.
Happy Thanksgiving, especially to those with a heavy heart or a burdened mind.
My day started with bursts of restless sleep, punctuated by a cat insistent that I get up. Truthfully, I lay there writing stories in my head and attempting to gather the threads of my own life together. After giving the cat his beloved morsels of treats, I made a staggeringly strong pot of coffee. My first cup was black as tar. The bitterness, as always, renewed me.
Writing these words, I fully realize that the pandemic has changed everything. It’s the new baseline. Whether it has emboldened you to waste no further energy on things which don’t bring you joy, or robbed you of the pieces of yourself that make your life meaningful, I hope you can find refuge in this day. Gratitude is a daily affirmation more than an occasion.
For years, I tried to get the tribe to accompany me to Clarion Inn, try a new tradition, and trust me enough to experience something that I once loved. They resisted until one day, the Clarion closed. I’m not bitter about it; disappointed, yes. (It was their loss more than mine. New experiences aren’t as common as we’d like to think.) Likewise, I hinted and asked if we might try another type of food, with anything on the literal table for options. Those who needed turkey and the fixings could still have those. I offered to ensure that they would if they would join me in something unexpected and non-traditional. It’s not the food that makes the day. The people around the table, the spirit of the day as originally intended – these combine to make the moments worth doing. With each hard pass, they’d futurize and point to a vague moment in our shared future in which we could be creative and spontaneous. Moments delayed often never materialize. The players find new games, and lives scatter. It’s the way life is.
If you are counting the wrinkles on participant’s faces to determine who might not be with us in the years to come, you are foolish. From experience, I can tell you that youth is no shield from loss. I call this tendency, “The Clarion Misconception.”
One of my favorite people in the world hates Thanksgiving. For her, the day was her mother embodied. She’s faced more loss since, and the holiday has yet to recover any joy for her. It’s hard to enjoy some of the day when someone you love is hurting. Ache and loneliness are holes that seldom fill. As for my loved one, she is at least opting to have an extraordinarily simple meal of her choice to celebrate the day. In that way, she is lucky beyond compare. It’s ironic that our simple choices are envied by others. Those with a full table often envy a small personally chosen meal, while those with simplicity often find themselves wondering what a full table might bring.
While I’m no fan of the holiday, I am a genuine fan of the opportunity that the day can bring. At its heart, it is a day of companionship and love. It is a gong being rung in our hearts to remind us that this day, like all others, is not a given. I wish people could stop looking toward the pomp and ceremony of the preparations and instead take the chance to use the day to sit and laugh. And eat, too, yes. Whatever suits them, no matter how ridiculous or unexpected. Even the first Thanksgiving, the one we supposedly observe, resulted from what was available rather than what people wanted. Traditions are meaningless to me if they cannot be bent or broken when people want them to be something else.
Things? I need none.
Food? I’m more full now than I ever was while eating unhealthily. By focusing on less, I have more and enjoy it more.
Love? No gauge can ever read full in this regard.
Whatever number of days you have, you now have one fewer to sit and laugh. Take the small moments and hold them close to your heart. As you do, the larger moments will take care of themselves. You can’t have an empty life if you fully appreciate who and what you love in the small moments. Most of your life is lived in the intervals.
After all, the day is about having a hungry heart. Mine is ravenous.
P.S. A couple of links below, if you’re interested…
For anyone who never had the pleasure of the holiday buffets at the now-defunct Clarion Inn in Fayetteville, you’ll have to pick another such activity or place to visualize. It’s possible I’m too nostalgic. Something about the holiday buffets evoked a feeling of kinship and holiday in me that few things ever did. I was always surprised by the mix of people who would show up and join in.
The buffet was fabulous, whether you were a light eater, a healthy eater, or someone who could best be described as a “human disposal.”
I didn’t get to return “one last time,” mostly because of factors out of my control.
Over time, I wrote a few rules to keep in mind as I hear/see people forego simple things in life, as if they themselves will not be scattered dust on a day much sooner than most of us expect.
The Clarion Misconception
The error of foregoing even mundane pleasures due to the illogical
presumption that said pleasures will always be at your disposal.
The Clarion Misconception Addendum:
Giving primary consideration to other’s preferences due to perceived proximity to death or variable out of your control.
The Clarion Certainty: Future moments are all promissory notes without guarantee.
The Clarion Kinship Observation: Familial or societal expectations should be evaluated against all variables, with your own voice given equal vote.
The Clarion Selfishness Observation: Compromise in all things will get you far; giving yourself permission to not do so will sometimes make your life happier.
On this day, I’m thankful for the statute of limitations, for those things on the ends of liquor bottles which inhibit pouring with greater volume, hair chalk, cats who take the time to learn sign language, exploding birthday candles, sauerkraut, prank obituaries, going to sleep in my own bed and waking up in the middle of the lake, indoor toilets, fiberglass-stuffed pillows, maniacal laughter in the middle of the night, police who limit themselves to shooting me just once, large and flightless birds who get cooked, cranberry sauce (aka “the devil’s snot”), that “Twilight” has no more sequels (though I loved them all), another year without me being embroiled in another sex scandal, fungus removal creams that also serve as sour cream, elastic waistbands, that intestinal gas isn’t colorful or visible, the relief I feel when they take the handcuffs off, when people think I’m George Clooney after a year of really bad luck, wool underwear, , black licorice, Tab soda, fruitcakes, Weird Al song lyrics, a good book rendered even better by a good cup of coffee, the ability to write the word ‘Grammer’ incorrectly on purpose and not care, that my sister-in-law cuts her hair at least once per full moon, burned popcorn, chewing 17 pieces of gum simultaneously, feeding the squirrels until they can barely climb the trees in the backyard, living room campfires that don’t burn the house down, stories from people who take the time to share them, memories of hard rains against cotton fields on a wood plank porch, and finally, an irreverence toward every thing on the face of this Earth, the one which has tolerated me for half a century.
P.S. I would never wait for a ‘day’ to be reminded.
Since my friend Casey surprised me with a pitchforkkreeper-themed pair of socks, this will inevitably require me to wear shoes with greater frequency. She signed the attached note: “Merry Thanksgiving Christmas etc etc etc Love Casey.” I now have proof that not only does she know me, but that she shares a deep affection for me. Much like our ancestor’s decision to create credit cards, this might ultimately become one of the great missteps in her life.
Additionally, she used one of the tricks from my repertoire: she adorned the packing envelope with lovely pictures of me, ones which reflect the solemnity with which I live my life. I’m certain that the mail carrier enjoyed the spectacle of someone so handsome being ridiculed via the postal system. The picture on the front is noted as “Drunken Hula Dancer,” while the one on the obverse side endearingly indicates “The Pink Dreamer.” The former picture was taken after Tracy, Casey, and Dawn attempted to out-drink me at the Hot Springs Invitational Prune Juice Festival in 2014, while the latter was snapped by a photographer as I sat opposite of Casey at Karaoke night, enamored by her choice of hairstyles. (For those of you wondering, my wife didn’t get jealous.) Note: once you start putting people’s pictures on stamps or the mail, it becomes a frivolous and fun addiction.
As for the Pitchforkkreeper picture, if you’re unfamiliar with the lore and mythology of this picture, suffice it to say it is one which has forged a deep and unsettling bond for many of us. The original picture is one taken by someone’s trail camera in the middle of nowhere – and the person was never identified. Pitchforkkreeper abides in us, always, a symbol and beacon of untethered hilarity. I have a 16 X 20 plaque of him in my living room (which is true) to remind me that it’s more important to be weird than to be understood.
Casey, thanks for much for the socks. I would have never guessed. (I’m surprised your husband permitted you to buy socks for another man. Socks are ‘the lingerie for middle-aged men.’)
May Pitchforkkreeper keep your Christmas safe and filled with laughter; the kind associated with shared times, not the kind you usually share with me when you note my fashion choices.
P.S. I included a picture of my cat Güino, in honor of Casey’s unfathomable love for all things feline. If you’re a friend of Casey’s, it’s important that you make an effort to adorn her life and house with as many feline knick-knacks as humanly possible. She’ll thank you, just as I thank her. The gift took some thought and effort.
In pursuit of the atypical and avoiding the possibly banal “let’s be happy” post, I’d like to tip my hat to the hard-working pipe cleaners as they look forward to a great day tomorrow!
PS: Do your part for commerce to keep these guys both happy/unhappy.
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.
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.