Thaksgiving and Platitudes

What does it mean to be “thankful”? 

I know, it means having a distended stomach, and wondering if you will live until leftover sandwiches!  Watching TV and playing like all the people in the house are not getting on your last nerve.

The truly simple and strangely absent definition is that “thankful” means what we do tomorrow. 

Some people will return to risking everything they have to build a new business.  Some will turn and continue to invest their fifth, twenty-sixth year or more into their marriage and family.  Some will go back on patrol of our borders or in other countries.  Many will go back to work in stores, hospitals, police and fire stations, governmental offices doing jobs we really don’t want to know about. 

Thanksgiving and thankful go way beyond any specific emotion, ultimately to some form of courage or grit where I return to life, roll up our sleeves, and do what needs to be done, that has fallen to me.  Glorious or mundane, courageous or grinding, I do what falls to me to do. 

However tired, full, joyous, or achingly empty, it shows us all how ‘thankful’ you are and for what, really. 

I may not know much about thanksgiving

I may not know so much about Thanksgiving.  I have used silly phrases such as, “I don’t feel very thankful.” And “Here it goes again.”

Fairly depraved. 

I think that the most thankful people feel it the least tonight and tomorrow. 

The ones that have been travelling for fifteen hours and may not make it past cancelled flights and road crews trying to keep up with falling sleet, ice and snow.  They know. 

The men and women in uniform who may feel only a tear or a lump in their throat at the thought of Thanksgiving, and still go out on patrol; walk out and preflight their very cold aircraft; or stare at the prosthesis that may as well be Mt. Everest as far as ease of use.  They know more about thanksgiving than I do.

The same is true for First Responders, Emergency Room doctors and nurses, who grabbed a bit of the terrible turkey at the Station House or Cafeteria with luke warm coffee.  They know more about Thanksgiving and what it truly costs, than I do. 

The Pilgrims had buried a staggering number of their own in that first year and winter.  They had their noses rubbed in their mistakes, missed opportunities, and “if only I had” bashings.  So scheduling the feast with the Indians, their only neighbors, took courage.  It has always been a holiday that looks beyond the cemetery, with great hope at the children, at the mom-to-be, and the land and its opportunity that is so very much harder than you had dared imagine. 

It has always been the holiday that chooses to thank God, when screaming or whining is easier, closer to your heart. 

The expense.  It is the expense that makes the smells, sounds, tastes, and minutes so terribly wonderful, deep, abiding. 

So to those of you travelling, guarding, and responding, if this is not the Thanksgiving, then may one truly wonderful find you.  I am grateful for you.  And if it is with cheese and crackers and a salty tear only, may the Father from whom all good gifts come take note and bless you. 

Tolkien’s Translations

I am not touching JRR Tolkien’s etymological and philogical scholarship or astounding work in creating the languages of Middle Earth.  I am not touching them because the scope and brilliance is beyond me.  Humility 101 was hard for me, but this one is obvious.

I simply want to think briefly on two events that he translated into his works: one lovely and the other harrowing.  

The lovely one came while his beloved Edith sang and danced for him in a grove of hemlock trees near where he was convalescing (again) in World War 1.  She was enough for him, more than enough.  Out of all of the loneliness while he was at the front in World War 1, those minutes when her hair was still raven and her skin clear gave us the strong, vulnerable, winsome and brave women in the Trilogy.  Be they elven, long or short lived, born to horses or court: his women were royal, gritty, indefatigable, and every bit as brave as any man.  

And Edith was enough as his font of knowing, his muse, and his encourager.  My Jill is unlikely to sing, except when she is unaware of my attention, but she has faced our trials: financial and health, life and death with a courage that she would deny and I cling to in my own hopes.  

So Tolkien and all of the rest of us men have more than enough in the courageous love of one woman committing herself to any of us boys cum men.  

Tolkien also translated his WW1 experiences into gritty, harrowing, believable battles where men make their semingly feckless way across inconceivable mayhem and horror.  What is so astonishing is that after “second lieutenants (his rank) dying at the rate of a dozen a minute” and losing all but one friend among the millions dead in the first round of industrialized warfare — he still wrote that one man (or woman) could make a difference on a battlefield.  

Tolkien’s war privations of cold, lice, and infections as well as the shells packaging so many new ways to die trickled through his pen into men fighting for the existence of men as a species believably both on the battlefields and in the calling of Sam and Frodo with so much weighing down their very souls behind enemy lines.

JRR translatd both his love and his dread believably, beautifully into his works.  Courage is a terribly lonely calling against the backdrop of an entire world insanely trying to extinguish itself.  Love is courgeous work as well.  

I may not translate my courage nor my love anywhere nearly as well in print, but I must, I must translate it well enough so that my sons have a model on which to build something brave, something better than I did.  They must see their mom that way, and learn to see their wives and challenges no less courageously.  

The Order is Funny

A couple of nights ago Jill built a fire in the fireplace, and lit it as forty students poured in the house for a Bible Study.  We had Jake’s birthday cake, coffee, and everything else we put on the counter disappeared. Quickly. Ever so quickly.

I laugh at one other point for building a fire in a fireplace with 40 students in the house.  You either build it so hot that no one can sit with their back to it, or you never see it.  If they can stand it, four or five students invariably sit in front of it blocking its heat and sight from everyone else.

Jill’s fire was kind and tepid so that five students absorbed the major brunt of it and three plugged the leaks by sitting on the floor.

The discussions roamed across laughter, silence, a few very quiet moments and deep to deep talking.  We closed with prayers, vacuuming, cleaning, loading the dishwasher, lingering conversations and Jill and I finally squeezed in a walk.

We were greeted by Orion and his steady neighbors in their predictable, immutable places in the heavens and as we walked I smelled someone burning a fire in the fireplace.

As I made out the Seven Sisters, I flashed back to when Jill and I would walk when first married and renting a little two bedroom frame house next to a Love’s Store in Enid, Oklahoma.  It was not the end of the world, but people on their way over to it threw their beer bottles over the fence onto our driveway and back porch.

We walked when cold the most and were enraptured by fireplace’s wafting their aromas out to us, beckoning to a day when we might own a house and it would have a fireplace!

So I laughed, staring at the Seven Sisters and trying to make out Perseus.

The fire I was allowing to send me back to a reverie was my own.

And I remembered that we had a small wish/prayer for those into whose homes we would try to peer or drink deeply of their fireplace wonder on those evenings so long ago: “I hope they are enjoying their little lives in that lovely home.”  Jill’s:  “I hope they are happy!”

Not only was it our fire, but, wonder of all wonders, the people in that house are happy.


The Weight of Leaves

Fall is exploding here.  The fallout (sorry) is blowing from, raining down from, cascading from our trees.  In Oklahoma, a century ago prairie grasses would have been turning color.  Somewhat. 

This year’s rains and cold have deepened the reds to deep crimson and the maple yellows to an almost iridescent yellow.  The yard is swamped in places, and the pile at the front door is even with the step. 

And the beauty is astounding, but something else niggles at my senses, for I have done battle with the leaf rains from my earliest years.  As a child the smell of burning leaves haunted the neighborhoods for weeks and that smell is almost “fall” all by itself. 

This year, this spring I strolled staring up in my fleece and windbreaker to watch as buds nudged leaflets giving way to air green leaves as the trees that had been holding their breath all winter long drank their first draft of oxygen and sugars.  Blue sky was eradicated with green waves in the winds.

And the rain and leaves and rain were too much for many limbs in the first big blow, and those limbs fell.  Too much weight.  Where limbs did not fall, two trees fell over.  The new weight outstripped the roots’ ability to support the beauty. 

Think of this.  All of the leaves turning colors for us are dispensing water and giving their last sugars before the tree summarily thanks them for their part in life by dropping them to become fertilizer for the roots next year, and hold moisture in the soil next year.  The trees always think of themselves.  Those trillions of cells in the leaves give their summer life up at that point.  I have never heard a tree even burp its gratefulness. 

The tons of leaves that were in the trees a month ago are now pale images of their former selves and weight. 

In the summer, the weight of all of that foliage transpiring made our place some five degrees cooler than Stillwater intown with its concrete, asphalt, short lawns and breeze-stopping fences.  Five degrees cooler.  Beyond décor, they’re our air conditioners in temperature and oxygen. 

The yellows and reds are mere shadows of the gargantuan engines feeding xylem, phloem and bark to put up more tonnages of leaves next year. 

And the beauty of that is so bright today as the blue bleeds through more and more holes where the tonnages have been sloughed off is astounding.  It makes me thankful, just before I go back out to rake, mow, and blow them where I can use them next year, too. 

The Rush

I distinctly remember it the first time.  It was autumn in Beaumont, Texas.  I was a senior at Forest Park, and it was the first cold (okay, barely cool for the rest of the US) day.  The afternoon sun shone through 106 deciduous trees, all of whose leaves I would move to the leaf pile in the next few weeks. 

The clarity of the light felt different than all of summer’s bronzy hazes.  Decisions about school next fall, whether to continue dating Gwenn, a couple of friends who were pregnant and getting married, the reality that all of my world was about to be scattered to the four winds with as little effort as a dandelion, and the sun somehow lingering low on the horizon with that amazing golden light stole my breath. 

My heart raced as if it would not get in all of its beats in my allotted life span.  The words of the Psalmist seemed overawing “For what is your life?  It is a mist on the lake, burned off by the noonday sun!”

And all of my life was racing by, and I had to sit for a few more minutes and soak it in.  I had to see it.  I had to listen, breathe deeply so as to smell the leaves, the rain on the wind somewhere almost far away.  The phone rang and I didn’t move: a teen not racing to answer a phone, because it would distract me.  Anything could distract me from this one, fleeting, insubstantial reality. 

Life is fleeting, and that somehow makes every second more expensive, every decision more important, every inaction somehow more incomprehensible. 

Now I know.  It is the days when night steals in sooner, unbidden as if it must do its work of undoing spring’s new greens in darkness that take a little longer.  Those days still catch my heart in my throat, and blur the feeling that was so young now so much older and yet still the same. 

Life is fleeting, and that extorts every second as expensive, every decision as less regrettable than indecision, and inaction as a common excuse and curse.

Oh, and the light is still clearer, more piercing, beautiful, and unbidden shining into my quaking heart.  Precious.  Golden.