O Lord, uphold thou me, that I may uplift Thee.

She was the first to arrive at the hospital.  I don’t think my son Marshall was more than a couple of hours old and it seemed like I had called her just five minutes before – but there she was.  She was still fiercely independent even at eighty-four.  She had slowed down a little by that age, but I think she set a personal best driving from the retirement home where she lived to the Hospital.

We did not know it at the time, but Marshall was the only great grandchild she would welcome into the world on the day of his birth. It was a powerful moment for Melissa and me that is vividly etched into my mind.  My grandmother sitting there in her classic blue dress holding my first-born child, my son, all wrapped up like a papoose in his hospital blanket.  She was very quiet.  She barley said a word.  She just sat there holding that little bundle staring into his eyes, smiling delightedly, even though his little head was still a bit pointy so soon after birth.

What I remember most about that moment is the juxtaposition of her hands cradling Marshall’s little body.  I remember her hands that bore the marks of eighty plus years of living tenderly holding that bundle of new skin, just hours old.  I remember feeling wrapped in this big complex circle of life.  I was witnessing a beginning and an ending – Marshall that new impending life possibility and my grandmother that wonderful, loving aging reality.  And somewhere in the middle of that constant of beginnings and endings, new and old, I knew I had a place.  Their lives were somehow also my life.  They were the book ends and I was the half written journal fixed in-between them.  I cannot tell you what a holy moment that was.  God had brought us all together and wrapped us in this complex relationship of bone and flesh and love.

I am not sure why I tell you all this except that the Thanksgiving holidays always bring these kinds of thoughts to mind.  Perhaps they give rise to similar memories for you – memories of the past, sweet memories, memories of those individuals now gone whose loving presence deeply affected your life.  The Thanksgiving holidays are some of my very favorite days.  They do not bring with them the hectic anxieties found in the Christmas season.  There is nothing I really have to do on Thanksgiving other than eat and be with folks I love.  There are no presents, no large bills, no great expectations surrounding gift giving and receiving.  In my mind, all my fifty plus Thanksgivings pile up as this one long string of events.  Some of them were good, some of them were not so good, but all of them included people I love and moments for which I am eternally grateful.

Sometime ago, a friend sent me a wonderful short piece that I want to share with you.  It’s written by Sheri Sobek[1].

I grew up in the fifties with practical parents – a mother, God bless her, who washed aluminum foil after she cooked in it, then reused it – and still does. A father who was happier getting old shoes fixed than buying new ones. They weren’t poor, my parents, they were just satisfied. Their relationship was good, their dreams focused. Their best friends lived barely a wave away. I can see them now, fifties couples in Bermuda shorts and Banlon sweaters, lawnmower in one hand, tools in the other. The tools were for fixing things – a curtain rod, the kitchen radio, the screen door, the oven door, the hem in a dress. Things you keep. It was a way of life, and sometimes it made me crazy. All that re-fixing, reheating, renewing, I wanted just once to be wasteful. Waste meant affluence. Throwing things away meant there’d always be ‘more’.

But then my father died, and on that clear winter night, I was struck with the pain of learning that sometimes there isn’t any ‘more’. Sometimes what you care about most gets all used up and goes away, never to return. So while you have it, it’s best to love it and care for it and fix it when it’s broken and heal it when it’s sick. That’s true for marriage, friends, old cars, children with bad report cards, brothers and sisters, dogs with bad hips, and aging parents. You keep them because they’re worth it; because you’re worth it.  Sometimes the best gifts are the old ones that you have already received. Receive the old gifts again, by looking around and appreciating your life, the people and the things in it . . . for they are the true gifts of life.

Today is the day when we give thanks to God for the true gifts of this life.  We give thanks for this old country with all her faults and foibles, this country which supplies us with so many freedoms, which lavishes upon her citizens so many opportunities.  Today is the day we give thanks for this old Cathedral, for our community and for God’s Son who watches over our living and sanctifies our days.  Today is the day we give thanks for the spouse we take for granted, the children who dominate our lives, the relatives who sometimes drive us crazy and the friends who love us although we are almost always too busy to see them.  Today is the day we give thanks for the old memories, for those we love that have died but whose souls continue to touch our souls.  Today is the day we give thanks for all the assumptions of our lives – for food, clothing, shelter, the work we do and the health we enjoy.

Most of us sitting here are so incredibly blessed by life it is easy to take those blessings for granted.  It is easy to think that we deserve them or that blessings are to be expected.  The truth of the matter is we often forget how good we’ve got it. The good things we assume ought to happen, are actually the free gifts of a loving God that don’t need to happen at all.

My grandmother is gone now.  I don’t get to see her anymore in that perfect blue dress.  That little newborn she held in her arms is now 22 years old and I wouldn’t dare try to pick him up.  Life goes on, as we all know, things change and one Thanksgiving follows another.  But the truth is still the same – I have been blessed, you have been blessed and all of us have much for which to be thankful.  Amen.

[1] Sheri Sobek, “Some Things You Keep”

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