I’m on an airplane on my way to Palm Springs. The plane is soaring over a blanket of fluffy, cotton clouds that will dissipate the farther south we go. We’re flying in to sunshine and ninety-degree weather. My sister has a beautiful home, and a salt-water pool. We’ll celebrate Thanksgiving with turkey and dressing and mashed potatoes and cranberries. We’ll enjoy our feast poolside, around a table with a built-in fire pit. We’ll probably have too much wine.
I’ll go for a walk and admire the palm trees lining the streets. I’ll marvel at the brilliant azure sky contrasting with the pale, dusty mountains that tower over Susan’s home. We’ll laugh until our bellies hurt. We’ll play games, and we’ll spend a lot of time in that pool. The perfect Thanksgiving. Sounds idyllic.
But on my way to work this morning, I was struck with a sadness so deep, so empty, that it took my breath away. I pulled over. Pressed my forehead against the steering wheel. Thinking back to a sweet spot in my life. In my family’s life. To a Thanksgiving more than twenty-five years before. Justin was about eight, I think. All four of my grandparents were alive. My sisters and I were happy in our marriages, and our four children were whole and healthy. My parents were vibrant and strong.
But this year, we’re scattered. Fragmented. My son will spend the holiday with his girlfriend’s family in Washington. My sister, Neil, and Izzy will stay home to look after their animals. My nephew, Chris will join them from Montana. They have friends joining them, too. They’ll have a fun, raucous, unconventional holiday.
I have another niece and a nephew, estranged from the family, who will be somewhere. I don’t know where.
I am so full of gratitude for what I have. For my parents, who are still the adventurous, fun-loving, consistent mom and dad they have always been. For my son, who has grown up to be a remarkable young man. His girlfriend, who I love like my own daughter. My sisters. Izzy. Neil. Dennis. Innumerable friends, more precious than gold.
But that gratitude is tempered by the experiences that have formed today’s reality. To juxtapose the memory of my healthy boy with the young man who struggles every day with his damaged body. To remember those times before great loss. Before divorce. Before mental illness and substance abuse. Before my nephew’s Purple Heart.
I know by Thursday, the gratitude will win. It always wins. But the older I get, the messier it all becomes. Gratitude and loss have become inextricably bonded. So today, I’ve spent some time grieving. But tomorrow , I’ll get on with the business of living in the moment. With joy, and laughter, and one spectacular cannonball. There is a pool here, after all …