Quietly Grateful

I admit that I am one of those people who take Thanksgiving for granted. I shouldnʼt. As a teacher I appreciated the few days off before the wildly mad rush toward Christmas that, even though the saturnalian holiday wasnʼt the end of the semester in those olden days when I was an active educator, December always became (mostly because Thanksgiving always marked the start of the large group speech season: if we hadnʼt at least gathered the various groups once by the break, we had fallen behind). If my room at school wasnʼt a messy disaster area following the fall play, it become in the pre-Christmas days the uncontrolled residence of piling masses of stuff that I would never get cleared away until June of the next year. So for thirty-five years, I was always busy at this time of the year.

Thanksgiving, most years, was just a time that I spent with relatives (of mine then Janetʼs) while I was worrying, thinking about other things, school things (or burying my nose in a book and reading, as I hadnʼt really been able to do enough to suit me since the summer had ended and school started). Distractions, preoccupations…

Thanksgiving always meant travel, too. I had my second automobile accident driving north from Ft. Madison to my parentsʼ home the very first Thanksgiving I was teaching, 1975 (the first accident had been only the spring before when I got blown off the interstate, in an inattentive moment, while passing by Ft. Dodge on my way to my very first educational job interview, at which I arrived several hours late, driving a rental from the garage that had towed in my dadʼs smashed-up VW bug; in those days before cell phones, even getting word to my prospective boss about the problem and the delay wasnʼt easy; needless to add, I did not get that job in Ringsted). Our first big snow of that (not quite) winter had arrived during the day on pre-turkey Wednesday, and I foolishly drove my brother Paulʼs huge old Chevy “home” to Mt. Pleasant. The snowfall just thickened as the darkness fell, and I hadnʼt gotten far, just on the western edge of West Point, in fact, when the car suddenly, simply went sliding sideways, circling away into the ditch.* I donʼt remember today how I got out (I may just have rocked and accelerated and made it, or perhaps somebody with a pick-up or tractor came by and helped out — all three situations have happened to me over the years**). Later on, I drove myself to my folks from Jackson County, later to Janetʼs parentsʼ house in Anamosa or my Aunt Alaireʼs in Iowa City (alternatively, because we do Thanksgiving with one side of the family and Christmas with the other, rotating sides for each holiday).

As a child, even from Michigan or somewhat closer, we apparently always drove, usually on frozen roads and through fallen or falling snow (donʼt try to deny to me the climate has warmed since the Sixties; I lived it, and I know better) for hours to my Burrow grandparents, and frequently on to Fredericksburg for the whole clan to celebrate at my dadʼs Bock sisterʼs (my memories always have us going to Bremer County, although I know we had to have visited my maternal grandmother, too). Much as I enjoy driving, few of those required appearances have completely positive associations, particularly the long, cold pilgrimages.

And third, I always eat way, way too much, ever since childhood. And naturally we bring even more home with us, leftovers, so we can overstuff at least twice more in the next week. Sigh. I tell myself, “I wonʼt do it this year,” but I apparently canʼt resist. (I am not going to eat too much today. I am not going to eat too much today. I am not going to eat too much today. I am not going to eat too much today. Uh huh, sure. — Iʼll let you know how it goes someday later…)

So self rules too powerfully for me to be truly appreciative of my blessings. Wrong but sadly so. And the whole point of todayʼs post is not to defend myself or rationalize such behavior/attitudes. Rather to criticize both myself and my preoccupation. For my attitude isnʼt right. I am blessed (albeit from my point of view by circumstance and nature, not some Old Beardy in the Sky), and even if I must submit to the social obligation to take this day to contemplate the multitudes of boons and anti-afflictions I enjoy, itʼs better to join the crowd for that than stand Satan-proud independent and take it all for granted.

Nothing is granted. We should all appreciate whatever (a little, a lot, or too much) that we have, that we enjoy, that we share. It could all be gone before I finish this sentence. Probably any of you realize this notion more clearly and powerfully than I, but itʼs worth remembering, more frequently than merely on the single sanctioned day each year.

I enclose the e. e. cummings poem as todayʼs picture, appropriately, because the real poet said it so much better.

And there are so many “things” for which I am endlessly grateful —

  • The Lovely One
  • the past sixteen or seventeen months (time to write and rediscover myself)
  • family (both present and departed)
  • friends (and that includes former students and Facebook-friends, too)
  • a home (expensive and drudgerious, cool neologism, as it is to maintain)
  • our English language which I love and in which I revel and delight
  • selfishly, my mind — imagination and acuity of thought and perception
  • my health (even with my right calf painfully interrupting my morning runs for three weeks, even if another ocular migraine occurs today, even if I am thirty pounds overweight… I am healthy)
  • The Bill of Rights (particularly that First Amendment)
  • freedom

…And Iʼll see about possibly doing better next year. Right now, there are a thousand things I really should be doing…

* I should have been, and I am, grateful that I skidded out of control to the right, without crossing into the lane of oncoming traffic.

** And for helpful fellow citizens, and a tradition of just such genial hospitality that I have accepted and from which I have benefited, let us also give thanks and do our utmost to enliven enduringly in our own hours and days.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

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