In this world, where nothing changes, where people are continually fighting and killing one another, but where everything changes, too, where children grow up and parents grow old, where we are all, in the words of a beloved Episcopal priest, "marching inexorably toward death," there is, this week, thank God, a national respite: Thanksgiving.
We've never needed it more.
It's tenuous, this life. We know it. We see it on TV. We see it in our children, in our parents, in the mirror. Traditions bring comfort. Family and friends together, raising a glass, breaking bread. Turkey. Mashed potatoes. Apple pie. Freedom.
Just like last year and all the years before.
The trouble is that most of us think that Thanksgiving should be like a Norman Rockwell painting enhanced by a soundtrack of "Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house we go." But it isn't and it never was. Real life isn't perfect the way paintings and prose can be, the way artists and writers depict. Real life is not pretty. People argue. Pies burn. Trains, planes, and automobiles are not horse-drawn sleighs dashing through pristine snow.
Snow is dirty and most things that transport us are delayed, but eventually we get home, maybe not to Grandmother's house and maybe not to the home of our youth, but to a house and to a table where we are welcome, where we don't care if the pie is burnt.
No gifts required. No garland. No glittering lights. No grand expectations. Thanksgiving is more holy day than holiday. We sit at a table and share a meal and memories with people we love and say thank you, to God, to nature, to the world, and to each other.
And if it doesn't go exactly as planned?
One Thanksgiving, right smack in the middle of the meal, our dining room ceiling collapsed. Literally. Plaster fell and landed on the parsnips. We'd just sat down. We'd just said grace. Everyone gasped. Then everyone laughed. "We don't like parsnips anyway!" And the meal went on. One year, the toilet overflowed. That was a problem. One year, I forgot to turn on the oven. A friend called and said, "Doesn't the house smell great?" And I said, "What?" One year, we lost our electricity, and the electrician actually left his dinner table to rescue mine.
All these things seemed like catastrophes at the time. But they weren't. We mopped up and cleaned up and poured more wine.
A catastrophe is something that can't be fixed. A catastrophe is a fatal illness. A death. Paris just a few days ago.
I see the snarky articles in magazines and online about the trials and tribulations of Thanksgiving. Eight ways to get through the day. Six ways to lessen the stress of being with family. Coping with Thanksgiving. And I can't help but think that these writers haven't yet learned about loss and regret and the tenuousness of life.
I think about all the people I know and all the people I don't know who would gladly trade another day of missing someone for a day of stressing out about what that someone might say or do at the dining room table. I think about my father and my aunt butting heads all the time, the tension in a room when they were together. The dagger looks.
And I think how I would love it if they both showed up at my door Thanksgiving Day, same dagger looks, same I'm-right-and-you're-wrong attitude, ready for battle. And some homemade mince pie.
Is the bathroom clean? Is the tablecloth ironed? I forgot corn. Aunt Dot and Uncle Bill don't get along. Who cares? What's important is this: Family and friends together, raising a glass, breaking bread. Freedom. Just like last year and all the years before. And just like, we pray, all the years to come.
Beverly Beckham's column appears every two weeks. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.