This week a friendly enthusiastic kind and caring young woman asked, “So do you have big plans for Thanksgiving?” I said “Well, Thanksgiving is for families at home, and I don’t have family at mine.”
She lit up with a radiant smile, and said “Then WE will be your Thanksgiving family!!” It was very dear of her to volunteer herself and all her associates on their behalf, so I thanked her. Here all I’d expected her to do was ring up my dental floss on the pharmacy cash register and then say “Next customer, hello.”
When people say that to me, and they do, what picture are they carrying in their dear heads? Are they really thinking “We’ll be closed for the holiday, so sure she can totally spend it here in the Dental Care aisle”? Somewhere over the years, did the term “family” wander off its little dictionary page and take a tumble right into the Sunday funny papers?
Or, maybe my view of kindred connection was wrong to begin with, some cotton-candy notion about coming home at the end of any ordinary day, and people there say “There’s chicken soup. It’s on the stove.” And they share the sofa, and the kitchen, and the real stories about their life. They stay around, maybe for years, maybe a lifetime, maybe generations, saying “Let’s pray about this,” or “Let’s move to the same town,” or “Let’s buy a house,” or “Let’s raise my kid / restore some land and grow potatoes / take a road trip through 10 endless states / start a band and play music on the street.”
Pondering all this on the commute home last night, I reached for my bus reading (Pema Chödrön, How We Live is How We Die), but the book had slipped under my groceries. To keep from rummaging and fussing I just sat back and worked with deep long breaths for the 40 minutes home. Soon on an out breath the thought occurred, “This breath now is the most at-home that you Mary can ever be. For you, that’s all there is.” There was really nowhere else than to be in this breath now, on this bus now, and my home group was this random assortment of phone-swiping strangers. It was not my favorite choice of possible thoughts. But I just kept floating down into it and kept breathing out and out in this one way to live and die.
In pleasant contrast, at church there is the most beautiful lovable couple, married for lots of years. They reflect a steady state of deft thoughtfulness and sweetness and uplift and understated humor, generated by their deft thoughtfulness toward one another. Well, this week out of the blue they had a distressing misfortune. But they teamed up and got right through it and for Wednesday mid-week service they even managed to bake and bring us pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Of course with a glorious dessert like that, the bananas that I brought for the refreshment table didn’t vanish, and there were plenty left after. So our dear Mrs. asked me “Mary, may I possibly take two of your bananas home?” She explained that dear Mr. is fond of a banana every morning with his breakfast, but with their circumstances this week, they’d had no time to go shop for produce. I said “Please take them all! And I have another bunch right here.” But oh no, just two was fine thank you very much. They offered me a ride home, and left the church hall marveling in pleased voices about my astounding generosity. “The Lord has provided,” dear Mr. proclaimed in wonder. “Through Mary,” dear Mrs. pointed out to him, with a thoughtfully procured banana in each hand. Their distressing mishap week was drawing to a close — and now he could look forward to his favorite breakfast tomorrow and the day after. But she sounded happier still, at the chance to serve it and then sit with him while he ate it. They kindly dropped me at my door. Then they headed home together.