Hello from the study on the Acre,
It is about 1:30 or so on a Thanksgiving afternoon here in Pennsylvania. It is not like other Thanksgivings I have experienced, at least for the most part. Then again, it is not the first time I have spent one alone. That is simply how life works when you are single, did not have children, and have no family close by. However, before you think I am feeling sorry for myself or that I want you to be feeling sorry for me, that is not the intention. I think the virus makes the idea of solitary something very different for most this year, and that is not just in our American psyche of I-can-do-what-I-want, when-I-want, but even globally, there is a difference as we move into the traditional holidays (more globally being Advent and Christmas into Epiphany). As we are prone to do, we remember those gatherings of days gone by and reminisce about how those were simpler times, believing them to be easier times, understanding them as more wonderful times, but how accurate are we? I remember the infamous trips to my Great-aunt Helen’s or my Grandmother Louise’s homes, and there is not a single sad memory of either place. In fact, as I have noted often in my past blogs, they were fabulous cooks, incredible bakers, and there was nothing we could imagine having that was not somewhere on their holiday tables. Certainly gathering to share their scrumptious offerings was an unparalleled treat for a multitude of reasons. However, it is only the food I miss from then?
Certainly, the food is part of it because it was so tasty, but sitting around those tables in a way that made everyone important was as relevant. Then there was the really competitive games of Hearts or the spending time on that enormous Southeastern South Dakota farm or the acreage at the edge of our Northwest Iowa hometown. My grandmother’s dining room was a place of family and sharing. When I think about giving thanks, being the nephew and grandson to two such amazing women is and will be forever one of the things that makes me most blessed. What I remember now is, from 1958 until the end of her life, some 18 1/2 years later, my grandmother was single. She lived a busy life among people, but at the end of her long day in the bakery, after checking three grocery stores on the way home, she would be by herself. I understand in a much profounder manner what that meant. I am certainly not aware of her feeling left out, of ever seeing her depressed about becoming a widow at the age of 45. I have noted before she struggled with that for some years initially. In fact, it through her into a tailspin for a while. Now I find myself asking what makes being solitary a reasonable, maybe even better than the other, particularly when we live in a world that pushes being with another? I am not sure I have a simple answer, but then again, as the adage goes, not one size fits all people.
Recently, I spoke with my former counselor, a person I met almost weekly for six years while in graduate school. He is an incredible man, one I credit with keeping me alive at one point in my life. In our recent phone call, I told him there were two things he told me that I remember most succinctly (that is not to say I that I do not remember other things). The first was one morning after being accused of doing some rather batshit crazy thing with a phone bill (which when calling the phone company they said that had not happened), he told me the reason I got so frustrated when trying to settle arguments with a spouse was that I argued in a logical manner and that was not how my partner chose to interact. He then went on to tell me I was perhaps one of the smartest people he had ever met, but that I was I was so incredibly stupid when it came to females. For what it is worth, he was a bit more blunt than that. When I relayed that, he told me he remember telling me that. The second thing he said was even more disconcerting. He said, “Michael, if you are interested in someone, I would suggest you turn and run the other way as fast as you can.” I told him that it was because of him I was still single 20 years later. His response, and typically so, was, “So you listened to me.” I guess I did, whether I realized it or not. There is always a rather mixed bag when we consider any aspect of our human existence. Honestly – as I have aged, I have become more protective of my solitude. I no longer see it as something to avoid. Simultaneously, there are times when I feel lonely; there are moments when I wish there was another person. Yet, even when there has been someone, I am not sure I knew what to do with that. Twenty years of being accountable to mostly myself, makes sharing that process a very significant lifestyle change. I know that in the couple of times there have been others even as close friends, I have failed at being as open and transparent as one needs to be if there is a relationship, regardless of where that relationship is or isn’t headed. That is something I am still coming to terms with. I think I understand that more now than I did even a short time ago.
As I sit at home this holiday, more than one person has reached out to share with me in a thoughtful and caring manner. This afternoon, I zoomed with family in NJ, MN, WI, and IA and had a wonderful conversation and chance to see nephews, nieces, great-nephews, and great-nieces, and others. I am always blessed to hear about their lives and see how amazing they are. Their father would be so proud of his children and his grandchildren. It is amazing to me that those nephews and nieces are in their later 40s and some in their early 40s or on the brink. So much has happened over that time. I spoke with an incredible friend and restauranteur today. We are close in age, but he is a talent beyond most anyone I have ever met. We had a great conversation about life and people, as we always seem to do. We both want people to succeed and he gave so many young people an opportunity to learn and grow in his restaurant. I still miss, some eleven years later, the opportunity to stop in there at the end of a long day and he would let me go back and make my own cocktail (it is where I learned Akvavit and tonic could be so refreshing) and we would sit and chat about possibilities and the world. He often accused me of being a Republican masquerading as a Democrat. That might surprise some of you. To spend 20 minutes speaking with him today was a treat and certainly an event to be thankful for. I know that traditions are being changed, but that is what can begin a new tradition. Zooming with relatives today was a wonderful new thing, but something I hope will happen more often.
So I have spent a good part of the day alone in my place reaching out or being reached out to, so there is little solitary, but as I sit here and type, Google music is in the next room and I am blessed to be here and remembered as well as remember so many things for which I am grateful. To my family, who though most are far away, they remember and love me. Distance and a lack of being in their presence this day, does not make them any less important or less loved, in fact, for me it does the opposite. To my colleagues and friends here in Bloomsburg who have reached out today in a variety of ways to remind me that I matter to them, again, thank you. Their willingness to share in their day when I am not family is no small thing to me and it humbles me. To those who I have spoken with by phone or text, hearing from you on this different sort of a Thanksgiving again makes it all that more important. It is difficult to ponder thankfulness if we focus on the world around us at the moment. From the pandemic to a country who seems to see individual rights as something more important than what is best for our society, from the political upheaval because some are convinced their candidate had an election stolen, to a world that is reeling with natural disasters, fires, hurricanes, and other climate related issues it could be easy to lose hope, but I refuse to do so.
One of the many amazing doctors I have been blessed to have lives much of his year in a completely different part of the world. He is not only an outstanding doctor, but he is even more so an incredible person. He is a poet, an artist, a gentle and thoughtful soul, and a person who blesses me each time I read something he posts. He has offered a series of things, things some might consider mundane or even trite, to be thankful for . . . and he is spot on. Big things, overwhelming things, once in a lifetime things get all our attention because they are extraordinary, but they fade and their luster can mesmerize us, but it is momentary. It is the constants in our life that need to be noticed, that deserve our gratitude or thankfulness. Why? Because of their very consistency in our lives. Sometimes it is a person; sometimes it is what we see each and everyday, and the thing that reminds us who we are and what really matters. Sometimes it is the thing that goes unnoticed and we are only aware of it when we grab for it and have need of it. It is the thing or the things we are most apt to take for granted. I am always reminded as I watch others to try to reflect on myself. Not as a comparison, but to reflect on how blessed I am.
I did not get here by myself, but rather I am the product of a number of people who have reached out in ways always offering something to make my life easier, better, more successful. Sometimes I realized that need, but many times I did not. As I finish this Thanksgiving holiday, I choose to focus on the multitude of ways I have been blessed beyond measure from those who have loved me throughout my life to the opportunities that have been offered and some I have worked really hard to achieve. I am blessed and thankful for family and friends, for things that have taught be to take nothing for granted. I am grateful to so many health care professionals who have been there for me in the past and in this time, I am even more grateful for those who now put their lives on the line daily for their patients. They are walking, living angels in a hurting world. I am grateful to complete another semester and meet incredible young people in my classes who care deeply about the world in which we live. The list could go on, but I think you get the idea. Thanksgiving is about exactly what it says: to give thanks for so many things great and small. I wish each of you a blessed weekend in spite of the difficult time in terms of our requirements to remain distant. Distance can be eclipsed by simple acts of kindness and helping others to know they matter. Kindness makes people thankful and thankfulness makes people kinder. It is an easy concept, and one our world desperately needs.
Thank you and blessed Thanksgiving to each of you. Thank you for reading.