MANY things have changed in my life since I was a child. But one thing has not. There is one day of the year I look forward to most of all. No, it is not the day of balloons and "happy birthday," though I like that day. And, no, it is not the day of many gifts under a glittering tree, though I enjoy that for my children now as I enjoyed it once for myself.
I like Thanksgiving the best, for it is the day when what is ordinary is heightened into thanks. And if I could say what I would like my life to be about each day, it would be grasping the opportunities to heighten what is ordinary into thanks. Thanksgiving is the day that annually affirms my quest, to see, as Wordsworth said so well, "into the life of things," and to live life outward from a core of gratitude.
As a child, the ritual, the smells, the timing of the day was set. First football on TV, then food, then a nap. But as I got older and too far away from home to be there for that pattern, yet not in a home of my own with a pattern of my own, I had a few makeshift Thanksgiving days. Here is the story of one.
It was Thanksgiving Day, 1977. It had been a difficult fall. I had dropped out of graduate school in September, hoping for a new future that was not emerging. I had lost at love through circumstances that still made me ache. Winter was coming, and I was living in the dining room of an apartment with inadequate heat. It was a hard, in-between time.
The only thanks I thought I had was for friends. And three of them came to New Haven to go out for dinner with me at an inn in the country - two dear friends and a friend of one of them.
I went to the train station and picked them up. We hugged, and I met the new person. We got into my car and drove out of the city. The conversation began to ebb; we were exhausted, glad to be together but still weary from the strain of those days.
The heater in the car finally began to work, and we were silent and warm. The calm of the countryside set in stark relief the strain of days spent scrambling for a future in the city. I sensed that those days were not so different for my friends; we were all young adults raw from the difficulties of love and work.
Sometimes beauty is hard to take when it has been absent for a long time. At first, it felt that way to me, driving along those beautiful roads. But then it began to snow. Snow. No one said it might snow. But down it came, gently and in huge flakes, layering the road and the pastures in a matter of minutes. No one in the car said a word. We all just watched the snow cover the land and bury our aches in wonder. For a while it did not matter what was left behind, finished or unfinished; we were spending Th anksgiving Day together. And it was wonderful.
I will always be glad for that day, even now, for all those days. There was gratitude and grace then too, even in the midst of uncertainties and fears. Sometimes I just need something as simple and beautiful as an unexpected, gentle snow to remind me of my capacity to wonder and to give thanks.