A table for ten, around which, indeed, ten people have gathered. At the east end, a man with thinning hair and a haggard face, wearing a white shirt and a knitted brow. At the west end, a thin woman with a tired, olive-skinned face and a smile which lights her brown eyes. Between, on either side, four boys and four girls.
The turkey awaits on its heavy silver platter. Down the length of the table, bowls of vegetables, potatoes and dressing send fragrant steam wafting into the air. A gravy boat sits in front of each parent. The places have been set with cloth napkins tucked into silver rings, on which the names of the family have been engraved at the behest of the grandmother who gifted the delicate, extravagant items.
All eyes turn to the woman at the foot of the table, who says, in her husky voice, Okay, now, what are your thankful-fors? and the round starts, youngest to oldest, the father going last.
Every year of my life in the home in which my parents raised me, we rounded the table in that fashion, telling the thing for which we were thankful. We didn’t get to say silly things, although the boys would try to get by with earnestly proclaimed gratitude for turkey legs. I pondered my “thankful-for” weeks ahead and tendered my offering in a small voice, hesitant, fearing my brothers’ snickering and the silencing scowl of my father.
In the few minutes it took for everyone at the table to say their “thankful-for”, peace descended on the Corley household, calm to which we could not always lay claim.
I continued that tradition in my own home, gathering those whom I loved to create a family-by-choice to augment the little family here at the Holmes house.
This year, I am traveling to St. Louis to share Thanksgiving with family and friends. My son will meet me there. I don’t know whether the hostess at whose table I will sit today has allowed for a moment of gratitude, but in my heart, if not aloud, I will say my “thankful-for”.
I’ve considered my selection for some weeks now. I could divert my emotions into a bland recitation of the names of people who enrich my life. More tempting: To tell you that I am thankful for my father-in-law; for the time that I spent with him before he died; for the hospice people who cared for him so tenderly; for his son who married me and gave me the chance not just to be his wife and stepmother to his children, but also to be the daughter-in-law of Joanna and Jabez; for their daughter, who understood my love of her parents. Or I could nod to the east and say that I am thankful for my son’s new adventure, as a grad student at Northwestern; or to the west, and acknowledge the doctors in Stanford who have agreed to see me next week.
And all of that would be true: I am thankful for that and more. For the shared children who live in my heart; for the years that each person whom I love has given me of their lives; for the fact that I still breathe, still walk, still find meaning in my work. Yes, for all of them and all of that, I am thankful.
Distilled to its essence, I am in fact thankful for all of it: For the joy, the pain, the love, the laughter, the tears, the trials and the triumphs. My life has not been a success by some measures, but by every measure that my parents taught me to hold against my choices, my life has been all that I could have ever hoped to attain. I am a lucky woman, for all that I have endured, for all that I have fallen short of acquiring, for all that I have not done as others might have wanted me to do and all that I have not had because others did not care to offer it to me or I failed when reaching for it.
I am thankful for all of it; and for this thing, too: The quiet, comfortable state of my soul, sure in its knowledge that I have met many foes and done my best to vanquish them; had many challenges and given their conquering my every effort; met people who needed me, and offered them my hand; sat with people whom I loved and soothed them in their pain.
The hour creeps toward the time when I will begin my journey eastward, to Saint Louis. I’ll close with the hope, tendered with my full sincerity, that each of you has many “thankful-fors”, and that each of you is someone else’s “thankful-for” as well.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.