Thanksgiving has been a federal holiday in the United States only since 1863, when President Lincoln proclaimed it so. Lincoln’s proclamation happened in the middle of the Civil War, and if he thought giving thanks was a good idea, even then, I suppose it’s a good idea now, too.
(An aside about the Civil War, that I kept trying to delete but could not: T. Geronimo Johnson, in a relevant, provocative, and hilarious novel called Welcome to Braggsville, defines “civil war” as “when people of the same race argue over what to do about people of another race.”)
So here, in no particular order, are a smidgen of the things I’m thankful for.
I’m thankful for my parents, Betty and Mack. They grew up South Carolina poor, children of broken and unstable marriages, but they found each other, found a way, and made a happy, healthy home for my brothers and me to grow up in. They also did work to be proud of, laughed a lot, and taught me to play Rook. Nobody had a better start in the world than I did.
I’m thankful for the woman that married me 30 years ago. I have sung Jeanine’s praises in these pages before (see 30 great things), but today I’ll mention how accepting she’s been with me the past two weeks, when all I’ve been able to do is go to work, come home, cook, eat, clean, and go to sleep. Love is patient and kind, indeed.
I’m thankful for our children and the ways they’re making the world a better place. Peyton is working to increase non-partisan conversation and action on climate change. (Here’s a four-minute video she helped produce this fall.) Walton goes to college and volunteers at Bounty and Soul, a non-profit that provides fresh produce and wellness education for underserved populations here in Buncombe County.Both of them are people I consult with internally – “What would Peyton do? What would Walton do?” — when I’m trying to find my way forward.
I’m thankful for the work I do: talking with people who want their lives to be better, educating a next generation of therapists, and helping lead a professional organization that supports the care of souls. I work hard but am paid, in wages of friendship, love, and nourishment, far more than I earn.
I’m thankful for trees and the chance to live and move among them. Every few weeks I read a new study about how awesome trees are. Being around trees, even just sitting and looking at them, lowers blood pressure, reduces stress chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline, and decreases measures of depression, anxiety, confusion, anger, and fatigue. Trees release chemicals called phytoncides, which, when we breathe them, cause our bodies to produce more of a white blood cell that kills viruses and tumors. Children with ADHD show reduction in symptoms when they spend time around trees, and patients in hospitals recover faster when they have a view of trees out their window. Trees give without asking a lot, they’re made for the long haul, and when it’s their time to go, they lie down and begin nourishing the next generation.
I’m thankful for what I saw in the grocery store last week. A few days prior, I had read a horrible story about an African-American woman here in Asheville, in line at the grocery with her child, being harassed and called “nigger” by two white men behind her. This woman got $40 cash back and left it with the cashier to pay for their beer and potato chips – an act of dignity and strength if ever I heard one – but when she got to her car and was safe, she broke down and wept. Reading that story broke my heart and was part of what put me to bed at 8 o’clock every night for a week. A few days later, I was in line myself at the grocery. In the lane to my right was a white man behind an African-American woman and a child of about 18 months. This man looked much like I imagined the others looked: greasy hair, scraggly beard to his chest, camouflage pants. But he was reaching around his shopping cart, holding hands with the little boy. They were talking to each other and laughing. The mother was also talking to the man and smiling at him, and he was smiling at her. That moment, that man, that child, that woman, are like trees for me, and I’m still breathing them in.
I’m thankful for one of my favorite writers, Brian Doyle. His Mink River is the most beautiful novel I’ve ever read, and I learned this week that, at age 60, he has a quite large brain tumor. His doctors have not been encouraging, and he had surgery yesterday. He gave a few interviews this week, prior to the surgery, and he made several comments that amazed me. Here’s one: in response to the many, many phone calls and emails of support he received the past week (including one from me), more than he could ever return, he offered a public word of thanks. Then he said that what would mean the most to him from people who care about him would be this: to keep laughing and to be tender. “I’ll hear all laughter,” he said. “Be tender to each other. Be more tender than you were yesterday, that’s what I would like. You want to help me? Be tender and laugh.” That’s the real deal, right there. Brian Doyle is a mighty oak.
I’m thankful for a single word in the Hebrew Scripture that’s been helping me this week: tehom. Tehom means “deep.” It’s tehom, the deep, that God hovers over at creation and makes the whole world from, including us (Genesis 1), and tehom remains alive and active and mysterious and longing in everything, ever since. You get the feel for tehom simply by saying it aloud. It’s a radiating, vibrating word – the breathiness of the h, the resonance of the om — and it names the spacious, humming, thrumming substance-that’s-not-a-substance at the deep heart of reality. It’s easiest to notice, I think, in music – listen to Springsteen wail at the end of “Jungleland,” or to the Soweto Gospel Choir sing “O-o-ohhh” at the end of “Biko,” or to anything Leonard Cohen or Mavis Staples ever sang. But we can feel it other places, too, when we go slow and notice from our heart: in our heartbeat, in our breath, in the vibration of blood as it moves in us, in a thought, in a whisper, in laughter, and in the connection between us and another. “Deep calls to deep,” says one of the Psalms — tehom el tehom korei (Psalm 42:8). Deep beckons to deep. Deep horse-whispers to deep. Whatever divides us, and there is much that does – disturbances of the Force and rendings of the Temple curtain that leave us dumbfounded and grieving — there is ever and always this murmuring tehom that connects us and calls us to each other and to God. And this little word, tehom, this giant word that lives within time and beyond time, this word, this week, has comforted me and reminded me what to listen for.
I’m also thankful for you, who’ve read these words, and for whatever ties of love and friendship connect us, including the tehom. I pray that the pause and practice of this day has nourished you as you needed.