Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Different Kind of Thankfulness

We wake, if we ever wake at all, to mystery, rumors of death, beauty, violence. ... "Seem like we're just set down here," a woman said to me recently, "and don't nobody know why."
--Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
I've been thinking a lot today about how last Thanksgiving--and last Christmas--were the last holidays I spent with my little friend and godson Ezra. 

I think we all knew it at the time, but it just isn't something you can allow yourself to think about, that the person you're sitting with will die before another year is over.

Actually, it isn't something you can think about, because it just seems so inconceivable, when it's someone you love, and when it's a child, the incomprehensible is compounded.

I remember when I went to visit last Thanksgiving, Ezra wanted to show me his rock collection and his coin collection. We sat and looked over them all, and he talked about where he had gotten each one and why he liked it.

One day, he hadn't been feeling very well all day, so he was lying down most of the time. Everyone else went to a Cub Scout meeting, but I stayed at the house so Ezra didn't have to go.

All of a sudden, he popped out of his bedroom wrapped in a blanket and said, "Missy, I'm going to make you my famous cheese tacos. They're the best. Sam and Circe always want me to make them. You're gonna love them."

When he didn't feel well, he'd say, "Missy, what's the funniest thing your kitty has ever done? Tell me stories about your kitty." And I could always make him laugh.

I read The Chronicles of Narnia to him over and over: that had been my present to him one year, the complete set of all of the books.

When he was sick, he'd say in a quiet little voice, "Missy, can you read Narnia?" I read myself hoarse more than once last year.

The day before he died, I went to the hospital to see him, and I tried to read to him from Narnia again, the way I always had, but I just couldn't do it.

That was, quite simply, the worst day of my life. It just didn't seem fair... well, really, it wasn't fair, actually, that a little boy would have to suffer like that and that he would know he was dying and all of us, so much older, would grow still older without him.

I think about thankfulness very differently now than I did five years ago. I'm thankful for all of the little moments that I had with all of the people I care about, and that I didn't ever squander them.

I'm thankful that I've loved the people I've loved, and that I've always let them know it, and that if it seemed like a petty problem or quarrel would come between us, I always tried to work things out so that it wouldn't.

Even when things didn't work out, I'm thankful that I was strong enough to be able to do what I did and try what I tried. I'm thankful that when it was possible, I've erred on the side of kindness, and when it wasn't possible, that I never resorted to cruelty to save my own ego.

I'm thankful that, at 43, I have no regrets, and that I can be who I am and how I am and find a way to be comfortable in the space that I'm in, even when that (mental, physical, emotional) space isn't what I would have ever wanted or chosen for myself.

When I face a problem in my life now, I ask my dad and my mom and Ezra what they think I should do, and no sooner are the words out of my mouth than I know exactly what I need to do. When people insult me or are unkind, it doesn't really matter anymore, not the way it did a year ago. Those things simply don't hurt anymore, because I've experienced far more complicated forms of pain.

I'm thankful I know what's important in my life and in the way that I live it.

There's a passage from The Chronicles of Narnia that I read to Ezra more than once. It's from The Horse and His Boy. After escaping to what he thinks will be safety, the boy Shasta learns that he needs to ride on and warn the others that an army is coming.

I thought about these sentences a lot this year.
“Shasta’s heart fainted at these words for he felt he had no strength left. And he writhed inside at what seemed the cruelty and unfairness of the demand. He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed your reward usually is to be set to do another and harder and better one.”

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."