Thanksgiving isn’t about politics for me. While I recognize that it has a historical grounding in the ethnic cleansing and cultural oppression of Native Americans, that isn’t what or why I celebrate. Thanksgiving in my world is just what its name implies: a day to stop and reflect upon the blessings and triumphs and lucky breaks from which our happiness springs, and which are all too easy to overlook in the bustle of normal life. It’s a time to pay attention to what matters most—the people we love. It’s a time to serve one another with kindness and laughter and food and wine, and to rejoice in one another.
It’s a time to revisit the bittersweet longing for the ones I love who have died and left me before I was ready to let them go. It’s a time for singing the joys and inexpressible worth of decades-old friendships and unshakable family bonds. It’s a time to remind myself that even people who are no longer a part of my life once brought blessings into it, and deserve to be remembered with gentleness, as I hope they remember me. The rituals of preparing the feast are suffused with this peaceful internal monologue, a silent chant of names and memories and faces that have shaped my experience and touched my heart.
I love the way that cooking on Thanksgiving creates a tangible outlet for the warmth and tenderness that fill my internal landscape on this day. The feel of knife and spoon in my hand, the fragrances of fruit and spice and onion and roasting meat, the familiar textures of sauce and salad, these are the milestones that anchor my inner litany of thanks. The dance of preparation demands extra care and deliberation on this day, and rightly so. Every cut, every stir, every taste and adjustment comes from a place of deep, wordless grace—the act of crafting a meal can feel almost sacramental when all the pieces fall into place. I’m not gifted at telling people my deepest feelings, but I am completely sure that the love my hands put into the meal is received and understood by those who eat it.
The older I get, the deeper and more evocative the webs of friendship and love become. So much water under the bridge, so many weathered storms, so much disappointment and renewal and courage and inspiration. My friends have faced so much tragedy and shown so much grace, I am filled with awe. I have been blessed to witness and even to participate in a small way in so many forms of re-birth, growth and re-invention that my mind is boggled by the bravery, imagination and sheer toughness of spirit that abound in my circle of beloved friends and family. I’m simultaneously inspired and humbled by the depths and heights of what we can do when life requires it. This Thanksgiving I am particularly grateful for being able to see and admire the greatness in those I love, and full of hope that I may prove capable of following their example.
I love this holiday more and more as time goes on and I realize how central a role gratitude plays in my life and my pursuit of happiness. A moment of being grateful for being conscious, alive and capable of reason and insight can re-align almost any frustration or sense of entrapment. A moment of being grateful for a beating heart and expanding lungs can clear mental ground for a stabilizing step back when the waters seem about to close over my head. I try to spend time every day being aware of my blessings and articulating what they are; today is the day when I feel moved to pay even more attention.
Another year of life, love and learning under my belt, another year of being wrong and being right, stumbling towards the light and wandering off into the bushes. Somehow I’m still standing upright and still facing in mostly the same direction as last year. I’m thankful for that! But most of all, I’m thankful for all the people who picked me up, dusted me off, hugged me, gave me chocolate and wine and made me laugh along the way. I appreciate you more than I could ever possibly say. Thank you for being exactly as you are, and for your loving assistance in helping me become who I’m shaping up to be. Onward!
©Mary Braden 2013