Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Zen of Thanksgiving

It was Thanksgiving 1995. My Father-In-Law lay in a nursing home in Tampa suffering with a myolopathy akin to ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease. I had just received word that if I wanted to see my father alive that I needed to get to Chattanooga, Tennessee. We had just loaded up in Tallahassee heading to Tampa when that word came. What was I going to do? We only had one car that was road worthy. All local rental car companies were out of inventory. There was nothing left to do but to head to Tampa, leave the car for my family and rent a car in Tampa. Thus I spent this Thanksgiving day entirely on the interstate. I-75 to Tampa and then I-75 and 85 north.

I traveled for a living so driving the interstate was no stranger to me. However, this interstate experience was vastly different. Why? Because you could have shot a cannon down either side of the interstate and have been hard pressed to hit another living soul. My Thanksgiving dinner consisted of a Big Mac at a McDonalds in Valdosta, GA. Along with some fries and hot apple pie and large diet Coke it was hardly the visionary turkey that had dominated my mind along with my Mother-In-Laws corn bread dressing. Add in the other elements of the feast that I was accustomed to and my state of depression deepened. As I drove I noted the bucolic landscapes off to my right and my left where you could see the automobiles gathered. I envisioned all the occupants of those homes gathered around a well dressed table, giving thanks and stuffing themselves with mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce and numerous casseroles of broccolli, green beans, squash.

I made it as far as I could towards Chattanooga and finally had to find a room for the night. Exhausted I retired to a room all alone. My little family was safe and warm with my Mother-In-Law back in Tampa eating pecan pie and pumpkin, cherry, apple pies with whipped cream loaded on top. My Kentucky fried chicken with an institutional  piece of some variety of pie hardly seemed adequate this Thanksgiving day. I thought of my son who was 6,000 miles away from me in Buenos Aires on a church mission. How I missed him and felt a kinship with him in being absent from home.

Sleep came with great difficulty. I watched football on TV as long as I could stand it. My mind kept coming back to counting my blessings and trying hard not to sink into despair. I thought of my father and our strained relationship. He who had fought in WW 2 and had floated in the South Pacific 50 plus years prior. 48 hours in that circumstance after his ship had been torpedoed by the Japanese. My Father-In-Law who had been a mess sergeant in that same war and had seen Mussolini hanging upside down along with his girlfiend outside the gates of Paris. I thought of how difficult their circumstances had been all those many years ago and how they most likely wanted nothing more than to sit down with their families and share a meal of any sort. Whether or not it included turkey and dressing did not matter.

I sit here, 20 years after the fact. We just completed a wonderful Thanksgiving with traditional eats of all varieties. My Father did not make it to Christmas that year. We were back in north Alabama to bury him just 3 weeks later. Me, my wife, my two daughters and my son who would make it home from Argentina traveled there and back in a state of Thanksgiving just to be together.

Our minds are reservoirs of an awareness and a yearning for home and all things associated. When that circumstance is altered it is painful to endure. I suppose that all the roads and pathways in our minds lead to but one place. That one place is home where we find warmth, sustenance, association with those we hold dear. There is no effective substitute for it. It is a concept, an image and a zen-like emotional and psychological experience that keeps our GPS honed in that direction. Much more often than we are aware.

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