Every Thanksgiving, my Aunt Susan writes a letter about the things she’s grateful for and sends it far and wide to family and friends. It’s amazing every year, but this year it was really something special, and I think it captures both the tragedy and the beauty of a really important moment in the entire history of this family to which I am lucky enough to belong. Such an important moment that I asked if I could share it with all of you, and she agreed.
Here’s the setup to my widest, highest, deepest gratitude this year: Dad falls into the Venice canal, nearly drowns, lands helplessly in a hospital where he and my mom cannot understand the language or culture. Despite the dire, frightening adventure the ensued, a crazy up and down, live maybe-die maybe, topsy-turvy mess of decision making, as easy to navigate as the streets and squares of Venice, itself, I find myself at Thanksgiving swimming in a pool of residual nightmare, grace, and gratitude. Gratitude?!? Yes, absolutely, gratitude!
In this morass of emotion, I know I am so fortunate to be working for Howard who didn’t question my assertion that I needed to hop on a plane and be gone for an ambiguous amount of time. And fortunate to be married to and loved by Ed who didn’t question any of my insane requests, like paying my parents’ bills from his own accounts, or my more reasonable needs for him to speak softly and calmly to me across the distance any time of day or night when I panicked about my own limitations. I’m fortunate to have family and friends who understand the power of a random, personal message of encouragement sent just to me in the midst of the crazy story. And fortunate that my mom is wise, capable, open, loving, and determined.
But listen, the truth is I am most fortunate that I got the opportunity to witness something profound.
I have always known that my mom and dad’s love for one another is fierce and just between them, all their own, impenetrable by us kids, unfathomable enough, really, that I gave up thinking about it in the pursuit of my own grown up life, no doubt as it should be… but in this Venice thing, I was given a ringside seat to examine it all. It’s a rare thing to be given the opportunity to stop the manic spin of life to contemplate the very essence of that which makes it worth living. So rare, in fact, that most of use never get the chance – and so I wish to share this picture with you.
Imagine a scene of a stark white room, gleaming floors, and tubes and machines hooked up to my dad who the doctors say do not have the odds on his side. It’s my mother’s job to bring him home alive or in a box. These are the only two actors in the story, because all the rest of the players are living different lives which will not be so much altered by the outcome. Sure there’s help, and people who wish for the best outcome, but the job really belongs to Mom and Dad. Luckily, these two have one powerful thing that tipped the balance: Love.
What love looked like from my ringside seat, was a zillion small and unrelated things – love is showing up – is insisting to the doctors who cannot understand you that you will be standing by that bedside longer than the hour they wish to grant you. Love is knowing that even if you don’t feel like it, it’s important to look nice, to put on the lipstick and dress with care and add the touch of jewelry, “because John notices things like that and it matter to him.” Love is being prepared to let him go, if that’s his path, but to stand and hold his hand and will him to stay bound to the earth even if he doesn’t feel like it. Love is doing these things even when he doesn’t appear to know that you are there. Love is weighing out if it’s more important to show up with a fever and hide a ferocious cough, or to stay in the hotel and hope like hell you’ll get better soon – and then deciding your presence is the most important thing and that his need is greater than yours; that being there is more consequential than any germs you are bringing with you. Love is acting well beyond your comfort zone on his behalf and insisting, even when you’d like to curl up in a ball and wait for sanity to return to the planet you inhabit. It’s as simple as gelato and as complex as the emotional landscape of a 47 year marriage.
I stood with my parents for hours watching them communicate with their eyes. Even when they finally could use words, the real flow was eye to eye, heart to heart, tear to tear, touch to touch. They know each other. They trust each other. They understand that when one needs, the other will deliver. They know what it is to love and to be loved.
So on this Thanksgiving, for me, it’s quite simply this: I am filled with gratitude for the gift of witnessing my mother pull my dad back from the razor thin edge between life and death with love. The gift of the invitation to think of all the complicated and simple ways that love exists in the world I live in and just how much that matters.
Take a moment. Look around your Thanksgiving table and pay attention to the familiar visible and invisible proof that you are loved. That you belong. That every single action you take matters to someone. Give and accept love like life depends on it. And know that I send you an abundance of mine.
With an overfull heart,
I cry every single time I re-read these words. I cannot even describe the way my heart felt this spring– when I heard the news that my grandpa had fallen into a canal, that he was in an Italian hospital, that he was in the ICU in an Italian hospital, that my grandma was alone in Italy while my grandpa lay unconscious in the ICU in an Italian hospital, unable to even breath on his own. My heart was simply broken. And my family was in crisis. But my Aunt Susan, my amazing Aunt Susan, got on a plane, went to Italy, and was there. She was support, she was a lifeline, she was a witness to something really amazing.
Her message serves to remind me of where I come from– I come from love, a big family bursting at the seams with love, founded on love, and constantly giving of love. My grandfather’s ordeal is proof positive that love is truly the most powerful thing on this earth– more powerful than disease, more powerful than distance, more powerful than accident or injury. Love never fails.
And for that, for this family, for this boundless, unending, powerful and beautiful love, I am eternally grateful.
Wishing you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving filled with love.
And maybe a slice or two of pie and some leftover turkey for sandwiches on Friday… because it is Thanksgiving, after all.