Thursday, November 28, 2013

Where to Begin

I passed a row of apartment buildings. Golden windows, holiday trim. There, a mother and daughter might be preparing a splendid meal for two, setting places, lighting candles. I remembered the seriousness with which my mother and I would set about on such a day. The cold hadn't a chance against the might of our meal, hot and thick with onions and garlic, boiling, baking, all day. We curated a fine table of mismatched (but porcelain!) bright prints and stainless steel, polished with the attention of a redolent silver; fresh greens whenever we could. Our clothes lay expectantly on our beds, pressed for pride's sake, waiting as we scrubbed the city's pain from ourselves the best we could. Steamed windows and faint music apply themselves to these memories with wisps of bittersweet. I am grateful she is my mother.

Now and here there are greens at my table, candles too, the best linens I can provide. My men carry heavy things about the house in the business of helping, tools clanging, important expressions. My girls wear my sighs, burdened, and start to sway about in the way a woman does at the kitchen. There are bowls and boxes and cups of flour stalwart among the decor; the toil and tire of the holiday is at hand. Johnny Mathis keeps the time. I am midway and know that I am the keeper of the steamed-window memories. And I am grateful, too, that I am a mother.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

I Know Why I'm Thankful

My brother-in-law completed a professional course of study some years ago which, after internships and years of experience, led to his full licensure in his field of engineering. Upon completion of his program I hosted a little celebration at my house. Nothing too elaborate, but my husband, ever the damp towel, wondered aloud why I made any fuss at all.

'Only he knows,' I told him. 'Only he knows what it takes to get up at 4AM on cold days, hot days, rainy days. To use his hands, even when they ache and are tired. To lift when his shoulders are sore. Only he knows what it is to come home with all that weight wearing him down, to carry three small children and tend to the needs of his family. Really, he's the only one who knows how hard it's been and how amazing it is that he's gotten this far. But today, I want him to know that I know, too.'

I've been thinking about that a lot as we move toward Thanksgiving. I've been thinking about what I know, and what makes me thankful. My brother-in-law is one thing.

My oldest is an academic rock star - a life rock star, really - always racking up achievements to make us proud. We take some credit, as parents, but really only she knows how hard it is to stay that focused, to give up so many days of folly, in order to stay laser-targeted on a goal so far off she can hardly see it.  She knows how heavy those books are and how sweet the bed is she leaves in the dark hours of morning to start an early day. Every once in a while I offer her a little extra attention or time because it's my way of saying 'I know, too,' but really only she knows.

My niece just completed an interview for a rigorous program at a prestigious university which, if she's accepted, could catapult her to an entirely different plane. Only she knows what that will mean for her life, and what work she put into giving herself that chance. If her beginnings have had some unsteady steps, she shows no lack of confidence or sure-footedness now. She knows what that takes, the example it sets. She lifts and carries, like her dad, without complaint. I'm so, so proud and thankful I get to be her aunt.

My youngest daughter just landed a lead role in her school play in this, her last year of middle school. Only she knows what yearning and deep commitment can become in an audition - a fragile dream brought to full color and volume in a minute, twenty - and then an existential squeal of delight so internal it shakes your very bones. She knows. And I, as her mother, dreaming and desperate for her happiness, know too.

Tonight, I sat down to help my son write an essay as part of a high school application. The prompt asks the student to write a piece on a defining characteristic. He struggled, until I asked him 'what do you think of when you think of yourself?' "I'm a twin," he said. "I think of Sara." I thought it was so sweet. Then he went on in great detail about how annoying and loud-mouthed she is. Only he knows what it means to carry this extra person with him through his entire life - literally since conception. Only he knows what it means to share, share and share again, no matter how tiny the piece. And only he knows the complexity of defining self by defining one's co-existence with another. Still, what simplicity, too. Rather matter-of-factly he tells you he is himself, but not without her. I love that and am thankful for it. I think, on balance, it is a good thing.

In fact, what I know for certain is that each person you meet carries some weight, pursues some dream doggedly, sets some standard for self, sings with conviction, knows and accepts some truth about himself - perhaps not without some melancholy. It's knowing this that must put the tenderness in your touch and the softness in your expression. To someone, on some day, it will matter. And they will be so thankful for your kindness. I know I am thankful for these and all the amazing people in my life who give me reason for thanks.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

I Haven't Forgotten

I know many who are doing 'days of thanks' leading up to Thanksgiving, offering notes, mostly to themselves, each day giving thanks for something or someone in their lives. It's a wonderful peek at all the beauty and generosity that floats about us in the world every day, and I love reading all these bits of joy, hope and wonder.

So I've wondered to my own self why I'm not compelled to join in this fun. And in a melancholy way I can't seem to explain I remember I carry my thanks around with me all the time. Some times I lay it out for display, but mostly I just see it, have it with me. And I haven't forgotten why that is the case.

I haven't forgotten being cold and tired and wanting someone to take away my ache so I could rest. I am thankful that despite so many days of wear, I have had splendid days of great comfort and peace.

I haven't forgotten being hungry, hungry so that it was screaming in my head, and too shy and too admonished by my station to ask for more, knowing often there wasn't any anyway. I am thankful for the greatness of every meal, the bountiful and the not so, because all of it nourishes.

I haven't forgotten being lonely in the quiet and pale of an empty play space or a seat untaken. I am thankful for my company, even in its absence, knowing it fills me and finds me when I am lost now. That is truly a blessing.

I can't forget what was given up for me, what was delivered and polished so that I could have some where he before me had none. I am thankful, deeply, truly, for those gifts that are repaid only as I gift them again, doing my part in a never-ending relay that moves forward, stretching, pulling along, overcoming, reaching, then giving again.

I remember as a child being dressed for a special day, fresh and clean, hair brushed to a soft wave along my face, perfume about my neck and along my arms. I remember the pinch of patent leather shoes and the crimp of stockings against my toes. I remember being received in love and warmth by family and friends, now gone, smiles all about, and arriving at a table filled with every treat and delight I could have wanted. And I remember thinking 'Be grateful for this day.'

I am. Every day.