Thanks Giving at Thanksgiving

It was a busy week, with a lead-up to that day we are all assumed to overeat.  There were the plans to go to David and Zita’s–friends who invite folks away from family to share with their table (and what a beautiful one it always is); the trip to Tempe to see my 86 year old cousin would follow.  We planned to overnight in Tucson, squeezing in a little vacation time too.

But before that, the Tuesday evening before to be exact, I’d been invited to speak about my recent book at “Mining Books,” a book club sponsored by the English Department but open to anyone at the university.  I had some trepidation; I hadn’t “lectured” before an academic audience in a while.  And this was a jury of my peers–former colleagues and some students with high expectations.

But what a blessing that evening was.  Yes, here were my colleagues, but giving hugs, supportive, welcoming.  And in the audience were former students, one whom I had in a graduate class years ago and who now is a tenured professor in the English Department.  There were hugs all around and lots of conversation afterwards.  A professor I’d known from the History Department even brought the book to read a passage out loud and ask about it.  She was going through the decline of her aunt and as a care giver faced what I had detailed in part of the book: not only the grief but the frightening and exhausting responsibility for someone else’s life.  I hope she took some comfort from the book.

That weekend, I was amazed at the stories my cousin at 86 still could tell.  A world traveler, a Quaker, and someone who has partially endowed a chair in Peace Studies at Arizona State University where she used to teach, Annanelle, born in Poland to a Methodist preacher father, is worldly and wry.  We met her man friend who resides in a different part of Friendship Village for more care; they exchanged a kiss, so sweet, when we visited him in his room.  Their combined intelligence scores would likely scorch a normal person, even with Bill’s signs of dementia.  I thought about this generation, what they have done, what they have seen (he talked a lot about his Navy experience in World War II).  Annanelle could say from her Quaker perspective that she could see some signs that gave her reason for hope in the future.  They did seem to have a bigger picture.

Back home, all exhausted, with swollen feet from two days of sitting and little exercise, I felt relieved to have escaped the ya-ya-ya of the television, internet, and (yes) Facebook to actually share time with others.  On the road, my traveling companion had insisted we follow the yellow billboards and stop to see “The Thing,” a hoax we both knew but a comic diversion from the long desert drive.  Yep, it was a fake dried up mummy and with a dried up baby to boot.  Both for only one dollar!!!

The weekend, actually begun in a scary fashion as at the door Zita informed us that David had just gotten out of the hospital, ended with even a greater shock.  David had lost forty percent of his blood due to a physical condition and though very pale and weak, was back home.  The Thanksgiving meal went on although I know we all wished that Zita had called it off or called us to help more ahead.  Maybe she welcomed some company that evening after all the strain?

We were driving and I got a call from Albuquerque–Gayle, my life long friend who has her own health challenges with necessary and permanent dialysis.  Before I could get into my chirpy voice (I am always so glad to hear from her), she blurted out, “Butch is dead.”  Butch is her partner of many years and she had discovered him sitting in his chair when he didn’t answer her call.  Through the teary report I felt not only sad and helpless to comfort, but stunned.  Drained. Faint with sadness.

So the giving thanks is tricky. It’s not just the uptick of turkey and football, of family gatherings and naps.  Because as life and death are part and parcel of one another, always intertwined, so thanks and hope and love among fragility are even more precious.  There is even more to give thanks for.

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