Every year in my childhood home, Thanksgiving dinner could not begin until every person present said their “thankful-for”. I carried this tradition into my household, and by ripple effect, the households of those who have eaten at my Thanksgiving table.
In the twenty-three months since I started My Year Without Complaining, events have occurred for which I am not thankful; not even in retrospect. Though I could adopt a “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” stance to find an avenue for gratitude, in fact some of the obstacles in my path these last two years downright aggravate me.
This year has held challenges, but also has given me pause to reflect and consider how fortunate I am. And, yes, to be thankful. I could focus on the actual circumstances over the last year, the times that I’ve cried with the times that I’ve laughed; the loss with the love. But as I wait for the coffee to finish dripping, I realize that everything can be summarized with one word:
I’m thankful for the time that I’ve had this year.
Time with my cousin Paul Orso, who died this summer from the ravages of ALS. Paul taught me about faith; and acceptance; and love; and though he would shake his head and smile if he heard me say this, Paul taught me the true art of not-complaining.
Time with my friends — and if I started to name them, I would surely omit one, so I will wave my hand in a vague circle and say, All of you all. The sands would have slipped through my hourglass had you not kept turning it. You know who you are. You appeared at my side in the darkest hours; you pulled me to my feet; you brought me tea; you shared your table; you held me. You saved me.
You gave me time. My most precious commodity, not for itself but for what I can do with the time I have reclaimed.
I am thankful for time.
Time with my son, though mostly virtual. By phone, by text, by Twitter, I have gained insight into the rich depth of my son’s character. He has grown into a gentle soul, a man who inspires me to accept myself and release my anguish. My son sees past the trappings of complicated living to the essence of life.
He will doubtless “tsk” and roll his eyes if he reads this. He’ll say, Oh yes, because you know how much I like it when you brag about me. My words stand: I’m thankful for the time he has given me. In the last year, I’ve spent many hours on the phone with Patrick, time which has enriched my life, and for that time, I can never repay him.
So much time for which to be grateful. So many people who fill my hours, who abandon other pursuits to spend their time with me.
But I’ve had time alone, too; and I am thankful for it. I’ve had time to write, and reflect — to resume the healing that I started 7 years ago, and unknowingly abandoned. This blog has been a vehicle for discovery, not just in the writing but in reading the comments — both public and private. And now here’s a word for the Puma: Thank you. All right, technically, that’s two words. But thank you, my friend. My faithful follower. And the rest of you: Sandy Thomas Dixon; Cindy Cieplik; Kati the Cousin; Yorkielaw; Judy Rea; Chuck; “Mr. Smoots”; Brenda; Prof. Sununu (who keeps begging to call her ‘Andrea’!); Theresa Orso Smythe; all my faithful followers. Again — I can’t name everyone. But I take the time to read each and every note sent to me in response to my blog entries. Thank you.
Your reading means more than my writing: I continue this journey because you choose to walk this path beside me.
Pat Reynolds once asked me how I can remember my childhood vividly enough to recount anecdotes, which I often do in my Saturday Musings. I’m cursed and blessed with a “good memory”, though science tells us that the human brain edits and revises “memories” often beyond recognition. I recall the Thanksgiving dinners with each of my siblings announcing their Thankful-Fors, followed by my parents. I remember the years when my health prompted some doctor to tell my parents that I had to gain weight at any cost, so that my father put me in the People Who Eat Dessert First club. I was its only member. I ate pumpkin pie with whipped cream while the other kids had to clean their plates before they could get dessert.
That experience gave birth to my advice to my favorite curmudgeon during the months of his wife’s waning health: Calories are calories, Jay. If Joanna wants ice cream, let her have ice cream! He repeated that advice to me week after week, until it seemed to him that he had formulated the theory for himself. During his own last illness, when I had such precious time with him, Jay once reached over and held my hand. Tears rose in his eyes. He said, “I let Joanna eat ice cream whenever she wanted, honey. After all, Calories are calories.” Indeed, Jay. Indeed. Wise words.
In 1968, my neurologist subjected me to a week in Children’s Hospital in St. Louis. I underwent a painful spinal tap, and missed some now-forgotten summer event that I dearly wanted to attend. The test gave scant information, and speculation about my “walking problem” remained the only diagnosis. That doctor told my mother that I’d be bedridden by eighteen. I spent the next six years waiting for the worst to happen; and the next forty with the same dull expectation.
I’ve squandered much of my time in sixty years. Now I look into the mirror and see the stamp of time: Fine lines, and grey hair; and sagging neck. Shimmering reflections could be ghosts, they could be angels; I whip around, who’s there? I feel the pages of the calendar falling at my feet. Time does not stand still. And yet I cling to its wings.
I’m thankful for the time that I have been gifted, most especially the time that I have had with those whom I’ve lost. Like any gift, time comes to us without guaranty. We cannot count on love, or fortune, or time. And so for time, I am most thankful this year: For time, and for all I have been able to do, and see, and learn with the time that has been given to me.
At 4:45 a.m. today, my phone’s text feature sent its bleat into the dark bedroom. I struggled to illuminate the phone’s face, fear rising in my breast. I had not yet discovered my son asleep on the couch; for all I knew, he had crashed his car in mid-Missouri somewhere.
But no. Not calamity, but my sister Adrienne, sending an early morning holiday greeting to her siblings and cousins. Happy Thanksgiving, A, replied my brother Kevin. And what the hell are you doing awake at 4:45 in the morning? For the next two hours, the phone intermittently woke me, as people wakened and replied. I might have been irritated, but the entire event made for a happy beginning to this day. Thank you, Adrienne. Thank you. Now go back to sleep!
Safe travels, all. Happy Day of Giving Thanks.
My father gave me this mantle clock. It belonged to his brother Bob, who followed their father’s footsteps to law school just as I later did. My father put new works in it and for years it chimed on the mantle of my home. It no longer works. Time stands still in my living room, where it is always 6:30.