Friday, November 26, 2021

Back from the dead

     During a very long day Thanksgiving Day of cutting, toasting, measuring, mixing, baking, covering, washing, sweeping, driving, greeting, chatting, serving—I could add another dozen gerunds, but you get the picture—I had plenty to time to reflect on the dynamics of family.       
     Yes, it's a lot of bother. Throwing a big party for crowds of people, some of whom you see once a year. But as with so much in life, you get out what you put in. When finally everything was ready, and it came time when we normally go around the table and give thanks, I suggested to my wife, sotto voce, that perhaps we jettison that part. There were so many of us—28. The feast had been delayed—complications with the mashed potatoes. Maybe we should just cut to the chase. 
     No, my wife said: tradition. So we began.
     Another value of hanging around other people: because you are not always right. Sometimes they are right.
     In this case, my wife was correct. The thanks that I was ready to ditch turned out to be the best part of the day, for me anyway, certainly better than merely eating. A poem of thanks by a 6-year-old was read. People were grateful to have survived COVID, to be alive, to be together. Nobody talked about material stuff. Few even mentioned the food. It was the family, us, here, now.
     A few brought up other things. When it was my turn, I stipulated what everybody had said, thanked my parents for coming from Colorado and my sister from Dallas, mentioned our own distant ancestors, who made their escapes so we could end up here, alive, then gave thanks for Joe Biden being elected president. That was well-received in our crowd. Though the thanks that will stay with me came from my niece Rachel, studying to be a rabbi in Jerusalem, who flew in. 
      She said there is a blessing for when you haven't seen anybody in over a year, and she gave the blessing, in Hebrew and in English: "Blessed art thou, our Lord our God, King of the Universe, who gives life to the dead."
     It's part of the Amida, the daily prayers that religious Jews say. Some say it upon waking in the morning, which, when you think about it, it a kind of arising from the dead. During the inevitable discussion that followed, my brother-in-law Alan pointed out that it wasn't so much physical resurrection that is being referred to, but the awakening of "dead souls." Or in this case, when someone you love is gone so long, a part of yourself become dead, or dormant, a part that reanimates should that person return.
     That is certainly true. The house rang in a way it hasn't rung for two years, with raucous laughter and a babble of voices and racing children. Say what you will about the family, it is life, in our case from a toddling almost 2-year-old, who pointed to a broken banister and said, "Uncle Neil will fix that," to a nearly 90-year-old, who marveled at the technology behind my large screen TV. All in the same place at the same time, basking in a warmth that goes back to the first protozoan cells clumping together deep within an ancient sea.
     I could go on, but about 11 p.m., after the last care packages of turkey—we had three, roasted, fried and smoked—stuffing and pie—we had six, pumpkin, pecan, sour cherry, mixed berry, and a couple I'm forgetting—were carted away, my wife and I ran out of steam and went to bed. Which means there's more washing, wiping, scrubbing, drying, unloading, sweeping, loading, stacking, disposing, climbing, sorting, storing and more waiting downstairs to be done. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving yesterday with all the loved ones you could gather together, and a quiet and restful day after today.


  1. The wife and I had the same quiet dinner together we had last year. Still it was wonderful. Also thankful for having recovered from and survived coevid. Very concious about not getting it again . Or giving it to our parents.

    Plus so much less scrubbing and stacking.

    Hope to return to the larger family gathering next year

  2. ...gave thanks for Joe Biden being elected president. That was well-received in our crowd."

    That's probably because "your crowd" was mostly Jewish. In a crowd of non-Jews, maybe not so well-received.

    At my wife's family's holiday gatherings, I'm the only Jew there. I don't count the two people who claim some Jewish ancestry, after doing those geneology searches you see on TV. I don't know which side anybody else is on, because we never discuss politics. It just isn't done. And it never has been.

    Oh, there were a few one-on-one conversations in 2016, in which folks swore they did not vote for Trump. But 2020's gathering never happened. So I have no idea if anybody changed their minds and picked Trump over Biden last year. Maybe it's better not to know.

    If we'd gone around the table, and mentioned what we were thankful for, I'd have quickly said that I was grateful to have survived COVID, and to be alive. And to have seen another spring and summer and fall, which I was very afraid I would not get to do. But my wife's family doesn't do that sort of stuff, either.

    I'm now old enough that I don't have to go to a family gathering to be thinking about those things. The song that so often plays in my head is by the Stones: "This Could Be The Last Time"...

  3. Grizz: your reference to the Stones' song, reminded me of an incident at St. Mary's Star of the Sea church in which Deacon Greg was congratulated by the presiding priest for his retirement after many years of service, which to my great amusement (and apparently only mine) was followed by a hymn that begins, "Soon and very soon, I'm going to see the Lord." Purely coincidental of course, but greatly amusing at least to me, perhaps only to me, but I'm thinking that you would have burst into laughter.


    1. We can see humor in all circumstances. When my mother passed away ten years ago now, we had a memorial service at our church, after which we all marched outside to the columbarium, where Mom's ashes would be interred in a small but deep hole below her marker. This being mid-December, the church had hurriedly brought the soil from the hole inside the building in advance, so that it would be warm and dry when the time came for us to each drop a handful into the hole after interring her urn.

      This all went according to plan, except that when I stepped up to scoop my handful of soil, it was sitting in a bright green plastic container with "VILLAGE OF WILMETTE RECYCLING PROGRAM" on the side. Mom would have loved that.

  4. Thank you, Neil! Your reflections are ours.

  5. Thank you , Neil. This was very much like our day. I love your tradition of going around the table. This will be incorporated into our day, going forward.


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