The event of a family Thanksgiving has prompted my resolve to begin a long-awaited blog. I was on a beautiful island known as St. Simons, a barrier island off the coast of Georgia. The Galloway family had gathered to once again celebrate the national holiday of Fall with people journeying from New York, Washington, D.C., but mostly Atlanta. Thanksgiving brings a warm feeling to me from past gatherings of my family, including many streams of lineage: McBrayer, Pollard, Grimes, Richards, Mitchell, just to name a few of the mongrel collection we include.
But this one felt different. I am the pater familias, the oldest of the immediate family. That’s been my role for a few years now after my parents died within the same year. I had never thought of it in those terms like I did this year. Perhaps it’s been my immobilization due to the rupture of my quad tendon in my left leg. That injury occurred at Easter eight months ago as a peculiar twist of my knee rendered me crippled. I have gone through two surgeries and now months of physical therapy. My leg now moves but I am in the process of strengthening my atrophied leg muscles so that I can ambulate, Currently, I am relying on a walker to help me get around, moving slowly but not falling. This time of limitation has quickened my sense of mortality, fragility, and vulnerability…..new sensations for one who had felt bullet-proof.
Maybe it’s the isolation, the sense of confinement that has prompted my thinking, my reflection, my brooding. I have had more time to think and read than in my recent past, having been so busy with my many commitments. Maybe my injury has slowed me down enough to pause, to take a moment, to be aware of the “now” that I always urged others to appreciate….some of my own medicine.
Or maybe it’s my sobriety. Not drinking as I have in my past to celebrate such gatherings may have allowed me to be more present to my family, and to my self. Normally, as I would have chopped vegetables, cooked Southern cornbread, and alchemically rendered a grand imitation and variation of Grandmother McBrayer’s dressing for the feast, I would enjoy drinking wine as I worked with the recipe embroidered on my soul. A fine Bourbon would be poured from a decanter into a crystal old fashioned glass to be sipped just prior to dinner as the family gathered. And then I would enjoy the white wine varietal that my fabulous sister-in-law would have selected for our common consumption. But no more. Speaking of Thanksgiving, I had gone “cold turkey” after years of periods of self-medication, abuse, or enjoyment, however you choose to frame it. I did miss the enjoyment of the “spirits” as those around me participated in the Feast but not enough to break my personal vow to stay sober, to remain clear.
“Sober” gave me a sense of presence and attention that was new. I have been told that I was a lot of fun at such gatherings in the past, the life of the party, but the persona that held court was only part of me, a part that avoided inconvenient truths. This year, I found myself listening more to others, attending to the nuance, the subtleties of how we interact. My laughter was there, but deeper, more real. And my tears came like they did in the past but felt more connected with my real self. It was a fine feast that was a celebration of life, the way it should be.
As I went through that day, beginning by sitting on the porch in meditation, listening and smelling the salt marshes of Glynn County, I began to remember the many blessings of my life. I thought of my ancestors who braved that very Atlantic Ocean to come from Scotland for the New World. My grandfather who worked as an Atlanta cop, walking a beat downtown, but who also led the singing at his Baptist church. My grandmother who was known as the best Bible teacher at that same church. As I spent the day, wandering about the house, taking the time to listen to what was on the hearts and minds of my children and my brother’s children, all now grown, I thought of my mother who was the beloved biology teacher and her willingness to teach the senior girls at our church, listening to secrets they dare not tell their own mothers. The spirit of generosity that filled that house reminded me of my father whose willingness to give of his treasure earned as an airline executive to his church and to people in need within the community, making sure his boys knew what “thankful” looked like in flesh and blood. All this combined to give me an elevated level of gratitude, this time not chemically or herbally enhanced.
I paused at one point and remembered a saying an old Texas songwriter once told me. He borrowed it from a fellow pilgrim to pass it on to me, so I don’t imagine he would mind me sharing it. When my level of gratitude exceeds my expectations, I have some pretty good days. Thanksgiving was a pretty good day.