The tiny plaque came from Suanne Atwood Schlotman. 

The folks gathered at last evening’s bonfire do not want their pictures drifting around the internet.  I have had this admonishment from others, and I try to honor such requests.  So I can’t show a panorama of the Thanksgiving lunch in our meadow or the circle around the firepit.  I leave that to your imagination.

Today my lungs protest the hour that I spent inhaling the smoke drifting skyward from the crackling flames.  I left before seven, knowing that the short sojourn would itself be enough to trigger a long-avoided asthma attack.  My eyes itch and my chest shudders. But I know these brief discomforts will pass, while the warm glow which I carried back to my house will linger.  I consider that I made a fair bargain.

Those neighbors will scatter to other corners today.  Some have families to whom they journey for the weekend, while others recede to their cozy abodes with partners, pets, or projects.  My list of tasks glares at me from the table, with three days in which to strike each job as I complete it.  Yesterday’s wind scattered the pleasant hours.  What lingers will not be as pleasant.

I do not join these parties with ease.  Decades of reinforcement left its mark; I assume no one wants to spend time with someone of my ilk.  I’m not pretty enough, not rich enough, not pleasant enough, not thin enough, not tall enough, not of the right political bent or religious inclination.  A tattoo of my failings stamped on my forehead broadcasts the shortcomings vetted by everyone who slammed the door in my face on their way to better offerings.  My stomach clenches as I prepare the dish of food that I fully expect to come home uneaten, and the wine that I don’t anticipate others will enjoy.  

But I went anyway.  I sat at a picnic table in the afternoon sun and chatted with people who know little about my life and have opinions regarding my character founded largely on first impressions.  I smile.  I laugh at their jokes and even  venture one or two of my own.  I answer a few direct questions, stretching for the precarious balance between honesty and unwelcome disclosure.  I bear in mind my son’s reaction when I asked him if a particular blog entry seemed too self-centered.  Mother, he sighed.  It’s a blog post.  You’re sending personal information to people who didn’t ask for it at a time when they don’t anticipate receiving it and won’t know what to do with it.  It’s self-centered by definition.

I bore his pronouncement in mind as I sat in the straight-backed chair that the neighbor behind whose house we picnicked last night kindly provided for me.  Someone asked me a question about my health and I started to give the whole story. My words faltered with the flicker that crossed her face.  I let my voice trail away.  The conversation turned to something more pleasant and I found myself finishing the sentence in my head.  Later, someone else asked about my book.  I tried to describe the blog from which its entries derived.  The blank look confirmed the failure of my effort.  Then I described this blog, which immediately resonated with everyone in earshot.  We talked about actions and accountability.  I described the unfortunate string of personal challenges which nearly cratered this endeavor and made a self-deprecating but truthful observation about why my quest continues unfulfilled.  They commiserated.

The conversation flowed to other subjects.  I felt as though I had made the most meaningful contribution possible, tacitly inviting everyone to share in my journey to joy.

When I got home, I made my evening tea and browsed through the day’s accumulation of unimportant email.  A few texts had arrived unnoticed while I sat in the company of my neighbors. I cheerfully responded.  The host at my holiday AirBnB had sent a message about check-in that eased my worries regarding access.   I sent a note of appreciation and confirmed the reservation.  Then I contemplated whether I needed more food as I browsed through social media.  Still later, I reflected on past Thanksgiving Days:  Rowdy times in my family of birth; pleasant evenings at my little household in Kansas City which sometimes saw 22 around the table for eight; and quirkier times , such as the Thanksgiving spent in a cabin in the Arkansas mountains, my first husband and I huddled around a wood-burning stove while a Cornish hen simmered in a cast-iron pot.  

My favorite seasonal ritual has to be hearing voices around the table reciting that for which they feel most thankful.  Yesterday’s lot said a quick collective prayer to the sky, to the meadow, to the trees, and to the happy coincidence of our communion.  I silently added my own “thankful-for”:  Of the many blessings for which I am humbly grateful, chief among them stands life — nothing less, nothing more.  I’m thankful for my continued existence because (to quote Lucille Johanna Lyons Corley) where there is life, there is room for improvement.

It’s the twenty-fifth day of the one-hundred and seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


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