This time of year – this week in particular – is my favorite time of all. When the warm hues of Thanksgiving, the ambers and pumpkins and wines of the fall, begin to fuse with the rubies and emeralds and bright whites of winter. This week, my two favorite holidays meet and marry. This week, everywhere I look, whether store front or home front or big screen TV, I see Thanksgiving and Christmas mixing and mingling in wild, jovial abandon. It’s a riotous party of flavors and jingles, snow men and smoked turkeys.
And amidst all the colorful, flavorful, frantic confusion, amidst planning for the sweet potato soufflé and shrimp and grits dressing, the pomegranate punch and cranberry bliss bars, my feverish excitement grinds quickly to a stop as I catch my newsfeed: the Chattanooga school bus crash; an upcoming memorial service for a much-loved teacher friend; the persistent resistance and continued persecution of the Standing Rock Sioux; the grieving, hesitant holiday of my very best friend; and a lonely, long distance season for my sweet eldest babe. And the list plays on and on…
There are so many sad songs, near and far, both local and global, all incredibly personal and profoundly painful. And the holidays make the pain that much greater, the suffering that much stronger. There are so many lonely and broken souls. Who am I to swirl around in a selfish state of unchecked cheer? How can I rub salve, not salt, into the wounds of my family, my friends, my fellow mankind?
There’s all those families in Chattanooga — who started their week off so normally. Rousing their youngsters, chatting over their Cheerios, dressing their darlings in layers for the unpredictable nature of our weather, never once considering the unpredictable nature of our fates. I can’t imagine the loneliness of their anguish.
There’s the family of my friend and colleague –a big, beautiful vessel of sunshine and sarcasm– who just lost her life to Stage 4 ovarian cancer. She fought heroically, valiantly, for two-and-a-half years. Her son is a brilliant, bashful junior at our school. Her husband is a kind and dedicated father. The sunshine and sarcasm will not be present this year. I can’t imagine the loneliness of their grief.
There’s the long-suffering and ever-faithful Standing Rock Sioux. They are strong and they are determined – despite the onslaught of pepper spray, concussion grenades, and water cannons — to protect their sacred lands, along with the river and ground water, most sacred to us all. In a bitter and brutal irony, there will be no breaking of bread and sharing of bounty between the natives and interlopers this Thanksgiving. I can’t imagine the loneliness of their fervent fight.
There’s my big-hearted, beautiful bestie struggling through her very first holiday season without her light, her reason, her inspiration – her mother. They were the model of what mothers and daughters should be– giving, loving, laughing, sharing. She aches in the belly of her being. I can’t imagine the loneliness of her season.
And there’s my bruised and battered baby girl – way off in a big city, juggling and struggling and going it alone. Her love is deep and wide, her heart so giving that she volunteered for a lonely night shift wrought with harsh surgery lights and sterile on-call walls so a friend could have time with her family who’ve flown in from far-away lands. I wish I were closer. I wish I were magic. I wish I could blink and be two places at once. I can’t imagine the loneliness of her night.
So many lonely and suffering souls.
I want to wrap up the world in a great big mama hug and serve it shrimp and grits dressing and warm pecan pie. I want to give slippers and smooches and soft flannel sheets. I want to soothe the suffering and swaddle the sad.
But I can’t. I’m not big enough. And it wouldn’t be enough.
And I want to fight the world’s evils with a wooden paddle and some feisty written word. Take aim at the evils with spirit and spunk and a good dose of mama rage. I want to call out the injustices and eradicate intolerance. I want to convert the callous and shame the shameless.
But I can’t. I’m not big enough. And it wouldn’t be enough.
I feel paralyzed.
I feel helpless in the throes of this week’s Thanksgiving woes. I can neither encourage nor fortify, give shelter nor steel girders. I fall flat. I’m not big enough. And it wouldn’t be enough. I wouldn’t be enough. I can never be enough.
I feel like the grouchy ladybug. None of us is ever big enough. We are never big enough to end the world’s suffering. To take away the pain and the loneliness and the fear and the sadness.
But I can pray, right? There’s always that, right? But is it enough? Is it ever enough?
When your loved ones are feeling beaten down and broken and cornered and contained. When humanity is taking hits right and left from a seemingly foul, vicious universe, where the rules seem to cater to the callous, the uncaring, the cruel. How is anything ever enough?
But prayer is all I have. And love. And good will. And you have them, too. Those metaphysical gifts – the gold, the frankincense, and the myrrh of our modern world. They can move mountains and mend fences, heal heartbreak and soothe souls. They are the tender mercies that speak to the ravaged and comfort the weary. So that is what I will do. I will pray, and love, and offer my good will to any and all whom I can.
Oh, but I’ll pull out my one last metaphysical secret – my super, secret talisman for when the world chimes out of tune: the unequivocal power of my grandmother’s grace. She was and still is my guardian angel. She worked miracles with me. She spun straw into gold, gave life to my limbo, taught me internal balance and the beauty of being. She is my patron saint of goodness and light. My go-to girl in the clutch. So today, I will channel the strength and generosity of heart of my greatest of human influences, my Grandma Peters.
First, I will put on some ragtime jazz, I will kick off my shoes, and I will dance it out. My grandmother loved music and revelry, family and fun. Her happiest days were when the house was filled with my aunts, and uncles and cousins, and someone (usually Teresa) was banging away on her upright piano or her antique pump organ. That’s when she’d break out her Charleston, flapping her arms, knocking her knees, shimmying her shoulders and rolling her eyes like she’d stepped straight out of a Gatsby party.
After that, I’ll bake up a triple-tiered German chocolate cake in her honor. My grandma didn’t cook. Not really. She could fry eggs and hamburgers like a regular short order cook – but that was the extent of her culinary skills. Except for her miraculous, twice annual (Thanksgiving and Christmas), three-tiered, pecan-praline masterpiece. It’s height and incredible lightness of being defied the rules of gravity. No one has ever matched it. And I won’t try. But I will pay homage.
And finally, I will visit a local wishing tree. A tree that blooms with the curled up, tightly-wrapped dreams and desires of hundreds of hearts. I will place mine there amongst all the others in the safekeeping of Mama Noni – a grandmother not of my flesh, but of my faith – my faith in the power of love and prayers and good will toward all. She’ll make certain my grownup Christmas wish gets heard.
Hope is a thing with letters that perches in the soul… and Mama Noni’s branches.
So this week, when the two best holidays merge, when the kith and kin, the shopping and shindigs, the food and family, the fun and frivolity fuse into one glorious, madcap scene of seasonal bliss – give thanks for what you have. And please remember that there are those among us who have not. There are those among us in sorrow and pain. Those among us with hard knocks and broken hearts. Those among us who are lonely and alone. Remember them and pray. Remember them and love. Remember them and spread good will. Remember the tender mercies that rub salve, not salt, on our family, our friends, our fellow mankind.
Give thanks and always remember.