28 November 2014
Dawn breaks over a snow-covered view as I review the aftermath of another holiday. Beyond my window, an unsullied blanket of powdery crystals shields the growth of the past year. Quiet accompanies the muted windless sky, and vapor breathes from the side of my house.
Exhale. The laptop’s fan burrs as I tap into a buried philosophical vein. Unbidden, a melancholic pathway unfolds.
Soon, too soon, my family has broken and scattered into bits and pieces of a mother’s tender heart. Now I know, or have known but not stopped to acknowledge, how my mother feels with her brood flung all over the world, and how her mother before her must have felt as her family drifted one by one to their own cities, produced children, and eventually formed new traditions.
It happened too soon. I thought I’d have them by me this Thanksgiving, but unexpectedly I did not; they had made other plans.
It shouldn’t matter so much. It’s one day out of dozens that I see them all year, a day with the same predictable dishes, the same games and conversations. For three of the past six Thanksgivings I’ve had no family at all. This time I counted on their coming, perhaps more than I should have. Disabused of my hopes, I shrugged off the disappointment. The rest of us set the table with holiday touches and huddled at one end, trying to ignore seats so glaringly empty. They were missed . . . did they know it?
Granted, the holiday has never been perfect—I’ve idealized it into sepia-toned Rockwellian splendor because I like the idea of it so well: the food, the lack of gift-giving pressure, and the pleasure of spending a few hours together. We have, in fact, had some dreadful Thanksgivings. Still, every year I approach the day anew and plunge enthusiastically into its requisite tasks.
Don’t get me wrong: I had a marvelous Thanksgiving with my daughter and parents. Everything tasted great, nobody argued, and aside from the dog licking part of the pie, we experienced no disasters. But throughout the hours of bounty and joy, I felt a hole in my heart that matched the two empty chairs at my table. It burned all the darker because, I suppose, I understood it was the first of many times I will likely experience their absence. I am learning the mother’s bitter lesson of letting her kids go.
They were missed . . . did they know it?
I cover the hurt by intellectualizing such moments as ‘just part of life,’ and yet next time I will probably romanticize my plans all over again. And so it goes. Reality, however, is inexorable. It corrects these two unattainable extremes—logic and ideal—with storylines the writer’s brain can’t even craft.
The laptop’s fan burrs. This melancholic mental pathway reaches its end. Outside my window, a snowy mantle shields the growth of the past year.
To read more letters, click on The Path!