Another year is nearly in the books. It’s been a pretty good one - perhaps one of my best. There have been no real surprises, no huge upheaval, not a lot of drama. True, my life has not been drama-free, but I must say it is in remission. Yesterday’s Thanksgiving feast at my parents’ home was pleasant. If I had my druthers, I would have had all three of my kids there, but not everything is meant to be as I would have it.
I would have put mashed potatoes on the menu as well.
Only my youngest made the trek this year. He and his friend played football and Frisbee on the same street I did so many Thanksgivings ago. My oldest went to Boston with his girlfriend this year. He approached the subject with me somewhat tentatively until I made it clear that it was all right. I always say, “Never pass up a free trip to Boston.” Ok, I’ve never said that, but it’s still sage advice.
My middle son waffled between spending time with my side of the family and his mother’s. I made it clear that it was his choice and whatever he decided was fine with me. He had to choose between spending two hours (one way) in a cramped car with his brother, their friends and me or do the same with his mother traveling to a different set of relatives’ home. In the end, he decided that he did not have to choose; neither option was too appealing and he decided to stay home with his girlfriend and another friend. Except for making sure he was ok with his decision, I didn’t try to talk him out of it.
I knew we would be driving back after dinner. It was a four-hour round trip and about a six-hour stay – 10 hours all tolled. That makes for a very long day. I always say (really, I do always say this) that the duration of a trip should be at least twice the travel time. We made an exception this time. I brought back leftovers for my middle son and company so that the traditional feast would not have to be sacrificed in the name of peace and comfort. My mother’s cooking is legendary and my son eagerly awaited his take-out order.
Although somewhat later, he and his friends enjoyed the very same meal the rest of us did earlier. The impact and the meaning and the tradition remained intact as well. He was thankful and made sure to thank everyone who had it coming. Although we didn’t share the same physical space or dining experience, we shared something deeper. We had an understanding and communicated our needs without fear of reprisal or hurt. In a metaphysical way, we shared much more than a turkey dinner.
And it is despite my vision of how it should have been. If I had to paint a picture of Thanksgiving this year, as I would like to see it – without any limitations, it wouldn’t have been this. If I were asked to paint a realistic portrait, best and worst-case scenario, I would have missed by a mile. In all cases, I would have sold myself short because the most important factor of all would have been missing – acceptance.
It is this sincere little nuance… an idea that, although not everything is necessarily planned, some things just can’t help being the way they are. Taken one step further, even if you are the type who plans everything to the nth degree, isn’t there a point where you must throw in the towel? How much simpler life is that I can recognize that time so many painful steps sooner.
I could have forced the issue. Not that I could make him come, he’s too old and too big, but I could have used the coercive and manipulative powers that I have acquired over the years to create that very reality. The reality I just got done saying I would have preferred. But that reality is contingent upon him sincerely wanting to be there, sincerely. If I “made” him come, I would have had what I wanted – physically. But I would not have had his heart and mind.
What I got was better than I could have planned. It was better than was possible to plan. Planning for sincerity is like planning for falling in love. All of the ingredients can be carefully arranged. The warm summer evening, the quiet sidewalk café and the soft music can be planned in advance, but love is unpredictable and best not meddled with. Sincerity is similar, and the best of planning cannot create it.
The connection was there. Not in time or in space, but in spirit.