thanksgiving - sonoma - 2008

thanksgiving - sonoma - 2008

Like everything else in my life this year, I have to approach Thanksgiving in a new way. My relatives have scattered, and my nuclear family is shattered by death and divorce.  I can feel the memories of fabulous Thanksgivings in years past but it is as if there is a heavy black velvet curtain separating me from those experiences. Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. There must have been a time in my childhood when Christmas toped the list but Christmas is more complicated, and often included packages filled with disappointment, feelings of not being seen and ribbons and lace of sibling rivalry. Thanksgiving is stripped down to the basics – good food, family and feelings of gratitude. Our family loves and feels grateful for good food. I am told that my grandmother was a great cook and my mother passed on that knowledge and ability to my brother and I as soon as we could hold a spoon and stir.

Yesterday I was working with a very depressed girl who had just had a great day. I helped her understand that the experience of the great day was always going to be there for here as a sense memory that she could come back to, reach for, and hold. This year I find myself trying to do that. Like some character out of Dickens, I am looking for guidance and comfort among my memories. My grandmother died right before Thanksgiving when I was six.  Did we do something different that year or did we solider on? That memory could help me now but it eludes me. Instead, I am filled with memories of myself in the kitchen with my brother fighting and competing, yet somehow always creating spectacular food together. I see my son and I sitting with his fat Pie Book choosing recipes and then baking together. I am remembering the year when all of my kids were on the edge of adult hood and we cooked the entire meal side by side while their music blared from a computer balanced among discarded ingredients, dirty dishes, pots and pans.

None of those experiences are available to me this year. It is as if I am being asked to create a drawing and have been offered a box of 64 crayons that is missing the one essential color. I can still make the drawing and I will certainly like it when it is finished but right now at this exact instant I am stuck in that second of disbelief when against all reason, I feel certain that the color I want must be in their somewhere.

Week after week in every changing aspect of my life, I struggle to face the recurring question, “what do I want?” There are drawing exercises designed to help unlock creativity in which participants are asked to choose a color from the box with their eyes closed and trust that the right color for that drawing will appear. It is an exercise that provides an experience of freedom and release from the crippling voice that tells us how and what to do. I wish I could close my eyes and reach into a box of crayons to make some of the choices that face me in my life now. I feel paralyzed by the missing colors, the unavailable choices, and the people who are absent from my life. I am two years old, stomping my feet, arms crossed, and jaw firmly set. If I can’t have what I want then I don’t want anything. This is the moment when what I will not have this Thanksgiving overpowers me and I can not see past it to imagine a different experience

Once again I find myself picking up my two-year-old self and holding her in my arms. We sit on the front stoop together recognizing and feeling the unfairness of everything and the impossibleness of it all. We cannot have the colors we want, the holidays the way we want them or the people around us that we love. I know that it is a feeling and that feeling move in and out like weather – like the clouds move across the mountains on the other side of my canyon.  This is one patch of bad weather, one holiday, one moment of deeply feeling the losses in my life. I am grateful for my feeling, my awareness of them and that they can move through me like the weather. I imagine myself after this storm as a rain-washed landscape. After a long time I feel the tiny body I am holding relax and we each catch the corner of a smile on each other’s faces. I ask, “What shall we cook together this year?” and we climb the stairs and go inside of the house.

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