Thanks. Giving.

Dear ones,

Whether this is a day of thanks or mourning or both/and… I was thinking of you today, with gratitude for your striving and your support of the work that MUUSJA carries on.

I had a quiet, restful time this year, a “stay-cation” day. Over dinner (stuffed acorn squash, potatos and leeks, blueberry pie), my husband and I reminisced about our most memorable Thanksgivings. About 1989, Morris and Sophie, my in-laws-to-be, first came for dinner at our apartment near Wrigley Field. The turkey was good, simple and not too salty. The stories flowed, just salty enough. I was in fiancee heaven — until the muffled crash from the kitchen.

The U-tube had rusted through and fallen into the floor-washing bucket, which luckily caught most of the water from a sink full of soaking pots. “Oh, no problem, something fell down, I’ll just be a minute, who takes cream?…” I strewed bath towels all over the kitchenette floor, shut the door, served pie and coffee. After they left, we washed all the dishes in the bathtub. Laughing. My in-laws never knew, until they heard this story at another Thanksgiving, years later. One moral here is “keep calm and carry on.” The most memorable holiday is never the one where nothing at all goes wrong. With such abundance, it isn’t all that hard to say thanks, even when the pipes break.

But some years are harder, aren’t they? My husband Steve was in high school for Thanksgiving 1963, one week after President Kennedy was assassinated. Steve’s neighbors had just adopted a baby after losing their only son to Tay-Sachs. The precious new baby was colicky and cried a lot, and when he cried, the grown-ups would begin again to weep. That was the Thanksgiving, Steve remembers, where everyone cried all the time except the sore-hearted teenaged cousins, unmoored and embarrassed by babies and adults and themselves. (I had just turned seven. I remember walking home from school in the middle of the day, and my teacher crying. I think that might have been the year we had baloney sandwiches instead of turkey.)

How can we say thanks when the adults and babies are weeping? When it feels like Danny’s preaching a funeral every other week? When there is war in the world, children in cages, killing and injustice in our own backyard? When breaking pipes aren’t just in a rusty kitchen, but are dumping oil into the headwaters?

We say thanks, anyway. Unabashedly. Relentlessly. Like the poet Sherman Alexie, talking about his take on what celebrating Thanksgiving means to Native Americans: “It’s trash-talking: “Look, you tried to kill us all, and you couldn’t.” We’re still here, waving the turkey leg in the face of evil.”

Like the poet W. S. Merwin, “We are saying thank you and waving/ dark though it is.” Our beloved Board member Lia Rivamonte shared this:

Thanks
– by W. S. Merwin – 1927-2019

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

(From Migration: New & Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2005). Copyright © 1988 by W. S. Merwin. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Copied 11/28/19 from https://poets.org/poem/thanks ).


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