The dishwasher is finishing its first load. As I pass through the kitchen to get my tea, I can’t help but notice what lies in the enamel roaster pan: the turkey remains, post-carving, which has not yet made the journey to the garbage. I once had an art class in college, and our assignment over the Thanksgiving holiday had been to sketch the turkey carcass. I stared at the bones and leftover meat, and blended my way to a finished assignment with my charcoal and kneaded eraser. And I never gave a thought to that turkey again, until tonight.
Ethan had turkey, complete with mashed potatoes and gravy and some other indeterminable fixings, on his dinner tray when I visited him at the hospital early last week. I watched him take one bite of everything, which is remarkable in itself, before spitting each mouthful back onto his tray. Pretty soon he pushed his plate aside, stood up, and asked if I was ready to play Jenga (for about the sixteenth time). He really hadn’t eaten anything at all.
This morning, when he came downstairs, he reminded me that it was Thanksgiving. And I was keenly aware. He asked if he could have Apple Jacks AND waffles for breakfast; I obliged. I cannot dig deeply enough in my soul to find understanding for how this little boy must have felt, day after day, meal tray after meal tray. He tried. He took a bite of everything. Why was he away from the people that so deeply loved and cared for him? How did we make it through those days? Because here we are now, in this moment, and those days are behind us. We may not remember, but we will never actually forget.
My anxiety kicked in when I found out that the music show I had been waiting for since the beginning of time was the evening before a really important test. I was going to see 10,000 Maniacs for the first time, and Tracy Chapman was the opening act. This was as close as I could possibly get to heaven on earth as a college student, and I had the burden of an exam to study for. At the Ellington ballroom, we were close enough to the stage to be able to nearly touch our heroes; how I wished the show would never end. The performances seemed ethereal to me, and I was filled up enough, inspired, to try to hold on to something intangible, something that I knew I needed, and that I would try my best to keep. Something to help me through the next several hours, at least, because the magic was done, and it was time to work on statistics (or whatever the class was). As I opened my notebook, I remember noticing how all of the furniture at my friend’s apartment was lined up along the walls, and there was nothing in the middle of the room. Nothing, that is, except what had been there before.
When I was a little girl, my ears stuck out pretty far from my head. When I was in junior high, for some reasons that are not exactly clear to me, perhaps medical in nature, I had two surgeries to “fix” my ears. Sometimes, I think I miss my old ears. I am in touch with only a handful of people that knew me as a young child, and perhaps these old friends remember my ears as they used to be. Nobody else even knows I had different ears. But I did.
I first noticed some light patches on Aaron’s skin several months ago. Not long ago, he asked me why he had dots on his face. They were a bit bigger now, and I wondered if I should be concerned. After a little research and at the advice of his pediatrician, I made an appointment to take him to the dermatologist. On the morning of the appointment, I told him that we were going to talk to the doctor about the dots.
“Why?” he questioned. “They are just part of me.”
I was struck by the profound wisdom of my five-year-old. Indeed they are part of him, and when they fade in time, as they will, they still will have been there. In what will seem like the blink of an eye, they will be a memory, but they will be part of who he has been, and who he is.
My beautiful friend, Diane, is among the bravest people that I have ever met. I don’t think, though, that she would identify herself as such. She lost her beloved son to leukemia, just as he was about to enter the prime of his life. He mattered, and he matters so much. His memory continues to inspire, through his family and his legacy, though he is no longer of this earth.
When my thoughts are so big I can hardly bear them, nor do justice in writing them, I can let them go, because I know they will come back to me when I am most ready. In this tiny moment, I can embrace what I can hold, and I can let the rest up to something much bigger.
When my across-the-fence neighbor called me to his side of the yard and wondered if I would like a few organic zucchini, he had no idea that I had plans to make ratatouille that evening, and the only ingredient I did not have on hand was zucchini. I hope he knew how grateful I was.
The kids were still pretty small, and I would always walk in to pick them up from the Catholic school. There was a woman named Annie who was nearly always knitting, and I watched her. She wore a magnificent chunky pink cardigan. I told her that I loved her sweater.
“Thanks,” she told me in a quiet voice. “I made it.”
Some years later, Annie’s son showed up at my door with a white bag. Inside the bag was the pink cardigan.
“My mom wants you to have this.”
I am grateful for my pink cardigan, neighbors bearing vegetables, Apple Jacks and waffles, my brave and inspirational friends and family, our Thanksgiving feasts, paths to understanding and healing, and each moment, though perhaps fleeting, in this beautiful life which is worthy of its own little celebration, even if it seems nobody else will remember.