i was bent into something of a crouch, flexing all the muscle my not-so-muscular biceps could muster, dodging the oncoming hot winds of 325 degrees, attempting to haul the big bird from the oven, when the phone rang.
it was my firstborn, far far away in new york city. and he wasn’t calling to ask how the turkey was looking. he was trying to catch his breath. he was scared, on highest alert. something was awry with his heart, and he was crouching in the mudroom of the brownstone where he’d just partaken of feasting. usually there’s a doctor in the house at my sister-in-law’s thanksgiving table, but not this year. of course. so i played long-distance nurse. forgot all about turkey and ovens and the kitchen disasters that might have been triggered by the sudden ring of the phone. we counted the number of beats of his heart, minute by minute. the number was high. very high.
in the swirl of that moment, and the many long moments thereafter, all is suspended. nothing else matters. it all boils down to the only thing that ever matters: are the ones i love safe? is anyone i love about to be swallowed whole by forces i can’t keep at bay? when he was just two or three months old, i remember telling a man who came to fix a broken sink that i now knew what it was to love someone so much you’d leap in front of a car or a train or any large object barreling toward him. in an instant. without pausing to think. because that’s what love does. that’s what love means — or this kind of love, anyway. i still remember the way the fix-it man looked at me. i still remember how deeply i meant what i said, how each of those words had never before carried such truth.
twenty-six years later, i still mean it. only the labyrinth has gotten more intricate, and the forces are ones i can’t always stop.
my sweet boy this morning is fine. he’s riding the train back to law school. and will soon be back to his hours and hours of writing. but in the wake of a terrible fright, i’m reminded again how fragile this all is. how perishable. how necessary to cherish. to count our blessings, over and over and over again. to savor each and every moment, each someone we love. before it evaporates.
apt lesson in the wake of the annual pause for the deepest of thanks.
this whole week, with the college kid filling the house with his joys and his whimsy, with a phalanx of shoes piled by the door, and the basement filled till the wee wee hours with kids who’ve not seen each other since long-ago summer, my old heart has been humming its happy tune. this morning that tune is richer than ever, backed by the shimmering truth that all of this is underpinned by improbability, all of this is here for the ephemeral moment.
and we’re wise to press to our heart each of those blessings. while they’re here. while we can.
here’s a litany of gratitude i wrote a few years ago, one that ran on the op-ed page of the chicago tribune back on thanksgiving, 2014:
By Barbara Mahany
In this season when we gather roots from the earth, and fowl from the field, when the slant of the sun drops lower and the light turns molasses, here is the challenge: Be attentive to wonder and wisdom. Stitch the day with blessing. Bow head and whisper, “Thank you.”
In the liminal landscape between asleep and awake, thank you, holy one, for heart still beating, for breath, for first thought, the one that tickles us into consciousness.
Thank you for bed, and blanket. Thank you for the one I love who lies beside me, whose breathing I know by heart.
Thank you for the dawn itself, for the stillest hour when all that moves is the barest breeze that rustles leaves, and far off, the stirrings of the lake that never cease.
Thank you for this old house, with arthritic floorboards that creak at just the same juncture, with just the same footfall. Thank you for whiny old cat there at the door. Thank you for coffee beans and hissing pot, and the old chipped mug that fits snug in my palms.
Dear maker of all that’s blessed, thank you for the sound of those footsteps clomping onto the floorboards above, and the certitude that — so far this day — all is well.
Thank you for the porridge I stir at the cookstove, the alchemy of cooking for those we fuel for the day.
Thank you for clementines, and sugary cinnamon. Thank you for butter, slathered and melted. Thank you for school bus drivers who wait.
Thank you, blanketer of wonder, for the quiet stitched into the morning’s hours, the quiet so thick I can drink in the tick and the tock of a grandfather’s clock. And the squawk of the blue jay, and the chatter of sparrows.
Thank you for work to be done. Thank you for dishes piled in the sink, whose scrubbing and rinsing gives me a moment to think, to ponder the day.
Thank you for wisdom, the sort that comes in unexpected flashes, when only you know you’ve found it as you feel your heart go thumpety-thump, or feel the goose bumps sprout up and down unsuspecting flesh.
Thank you for all that’s poetry — wisdom-steeped or just plain beautiful, breathtaking. And thank you for gospel of any brand — be it birthed from holy child, everyday saint or even the so-called kook who stands on the street corner, proclaiming through a megaphone.
Thank you, yes, for telephones, for that rare sound of a voice that nestles against the tenderest heart. That, within the first breath of the very first syllable, brings comfort, collapses miles and aloneness.
I might be among the few who salute the cloudy skies of November on my long list of thanks. Ah, but those angora gray skies, they comfort me, harbor me. I’ll take the somnolence, the introspection of a gray day any day. So thank you for cloudy and gray.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how thankful I am for hearts that continue to tick, day in and day out, despite the trials we toss their way, as we worry and fret, then, without notice, shriek in deep joy and excitement. Poor ol’ heart, the one that landed in me anyway, it might not have realized it was signed on for a roller coaster ride of such seismic proportion.
Speaking of ticking, thank you for the schoolhouse clock that does just that, minute by minute, hour upon hour, heartbeat against the wall.
Thank you, too, for windows. And for the flutterings and flashes just beyond the glass, as clouds of gentle creatures take off and land, from sky to limb and back again — each time, lifting just a little bit of my soul.
Thank you for doors, the ones that let in unexpected someones, someones we love. And keep out the wind and the cold.
Thank you for fires that roar and logs that crackle. Thank you for the one that’s turning the so-called sleeping room, across from the kitchen, into a chamber of flickering gold. Thank you for the two lumps under blankets, snoozing by the fire.
Thank you for the dinner hour, and the blessing of slow-simmering stew. Thank you for the bounty of greens from your earth, and spices from pods and seeds and stamens.
Thank you for the trees and the gnarly limbs, and the hummingbird now buried deep in my garden.
Thank you for candlelight. And the lights of your making: moonlight and sunlight and dappled radiance scattered like seed across the landscape. Thank you for twinkling stars and streaking ones, too — chalk marks etched across the slate of the night sky.
Thank you for the blankets we tuck under the chin of our sleeping child.
Thank you for the child. For the breathtaking chance to infuse all that’s good in this world. Thank you for lessons taught while holding a hand, or wiping a tear. Thank you for bandages that quell the hurt, and words that do the same. Thank you for everyone who lifts up our child, the teachers who inspire, the coaches who are kind. And the lady down the block who never fails to plant a fat wet kiss on that child’s pink cheek.
Thank you for the year drawing to a close, and this pause to nod our heads and whisper gratitude. Thank you for crunching leaves, and tumbling snowflakes.
Thank you for love in all its iterations. For birth, and death, and all that animates the interstitial hours. Thank you for those who walk beside us, who put a hand to the small of our back, or reach out to carry us across the bottomless abyss.
Thank you for all of this. And more. So, so much more.
if you happen by the chair today, or any day ever, feel free to add to the litany of thanks, and make this a communal — and rousing — chorus of gratitude.
and know that among the dearest treasures of my life are those of you who find your way to this old table and chairs. bless you. xoxo love, b.