I'm often ambivalent about Thanksgiving. Especially this year, when the holiday brings to mind this recent election and the apparently large number of white people who think this is “their” country.
But I have to admit, I'm always wishy washy about this holiday when it's still a ways out. It hits me first in a kind of rude way. I will have been barreling through the fall, making excuses to Jodi about being too busy to cook anything interesting, buried in chores and plans, and helping the 17-year-old write essays about Crime and Punishment or some other subject I haven't thought about in nearly 50 years.
Then, when the big day is closer, but still seems months away, someone will remind me that we need to make a plan, buy food, and look at recipes. I dig in my heels, not ready for the season of extravagant cooking, potentially tense family moments, eating too much and spending more money than I should.
But when we’re actually within shouting distance of the day itself, I soften, and there's that darned gratitude beginning to worm its way in. I look up for the first time in months and even the most annoying people start to seem sweet. In the glow of this growing warmth that I eventually let overtake me, my friends become saints. And really they are. To say that I would not be where I am in my life without them would be such an understatement. I try to tell them during the year that I am so lucky for their presence and their encouragement and their support, but what starts out sounding lovely in my head usually ends up sappy and awkward when I try to muster the grace to say it. So I’m hoping those same folks might read this blog post and understand that my life would be flatter than a paper doll’s without them.
When you are old and blessed as I am, you have had a life full of friends. If you live in the same town where you grew up, as I did, you might even still have contact with people who knew you when you were 6 or 11 or 17. But no matter how many friends you’ve had over the years, when you reach my age, the dust has settled and it's the stalwarts who remain. It is that group that I think of most affectionately every late November, with such appreciation for standing by me, for listening to me, for encouraging me, and for telling me the truth.
The last thing I want is for this to sound like an award show thank-you speech, but it’s difficult to avoid that. My friends have hung with me when I’ve been whiny, scared, neurotic, needy, cocky, depressed, and annoyingly repetitive. They listened to me constantly when I was so eager to retire that I could hardly bear to go to work another day, and yet they haven't batted an eye any of the times I’ve gone back to work since then. And, when I finally admitted recently that I was working because it was easier than creating a whole new identity, not one of them said, “Duh!”
In short, they have stood by me in the way my gymnastics team used to when I was a 13-year-old jumping on the trampoline. Those kids would stand with such vigilance around that huge bouncing contraption and watch me carefully. They kept their eyes open for danger, and they were ready if I flipped over the edge. But not one of them got up on the trampoline to stop me when I was jumping really high or trying a trick that I hadn't done before. They trusted I would survive whatever happened, but they were always there when I needed them.
My life would be flatter than a paper doll’s without them.
There is nothing greater in the world than our connection to other people, unless it’s watching the sunrise with one of them. And yet, because jobs and bills and events and lawn mowing and laundry can fill up a day in a blink, we forget the power of just sitting and talking about life in a real way with someone close to us. Sometimes, when I’m laughing with a friend, I’ll realize that I haven’t let myself be that emotionally present with another human being for days.
It’s so easy to go through the motions of being close to people. We hug them when we see them, we text them about something funny we saw on television, we find the perfect birthday card for their special day. It’s so much harder to walk with them when they’re hurting, to listen to a painful part of their life that just won’t go away, to tell them what we’re scared of, what hurts. But this is where the real richness is—the moment when I stop my brain from perseverating about the next activity and I look my friend in the eye. Or I quit staring at my phone and relax my body enough to just be in the room with someone I love.
So, as we get ready to dry that bread for stuffing and hope to God someone offers to help with the dishes, I am feeling so grateful once again for my tribe, my village, my people. Thank you for seeing me and hearing me and opening yourself to me. It means everything that you have stood here with me for so long and that you still, after this many years, let me believe I am worthy of it all.