Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Tomorrow morning I will make green bean casserole for 30 people, one of the groups in our small city of privilege who find themselves without permanent shelter on this day that Americans gather to give thanks. I made my initial trip to the market yesterday for the various canned ingredients I need, and for a large, disposable aluminum pan for baking this Thanksgiving favorite—green beans, immersed in cream of mushroom soup, and topped off with canned onion rings. Half way home from the market, I realized that I had left the pan at the checkout stand. Then I realized that I needed aluminum foil to cover the pan for transporting and a large disposable spoon for serving. Now I am completely armed. No doubt, my concoction will be much more visually appealing than the current commercials I’m seeing on TV, and as I write, I’m close to salivating as I imagine the aroma from the oven after about 30 minutes of baking time.
It’s no big deal—this modest contribution that will have taken no more than four hours of my life from the store to the serving line. How my offering will be received I can only imagine. I do know this, however. Giving is a privilege, regardless of the size of the gift. “Thank you, thank you, thank you” was at the heart of the pre-Thanksgiving talk last Sunday, specifically for those gathered in the beautiful replica of an historic northern New Mexican church in the heart of old Albuquerque. The minister talked about how for years she had begrudged the work of the Thanksgiving meal. Then one year, illness and the prospect of loss touched her family in what in the retelling is worthy of a Hallmark Hall of Fame story. Many of us drift toward the sentimental during the holidays. “Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you,” she repeated, and in the retelling, the privilege of giving thanks and sharing it with a few of those we care about became palpable.
I will gather with a few friends on Thanksgiving day. And though it won’t be our family’s version of the Hallmark holiday that will always remind me of how special my growing up years were, it will be a time with people who show me often that affection is about more than blood. Over the years I have realized that many people spend most of their adult lives away from the families into which they were born. Some people seem to prefer it this way. Tales of holiday dysfunction, such as the now-classic film, “Home for the Holidays,” bring both belly laughs and tears as we are reminded of how tough relating to our kin can get as we grow up and maybe think we’ve outgrown our families. My own family’s Hallmark card doesn’t look so much like a TV commercial. But it is our card—our very own story, and in our case, I know that it’s made us all better in so many ways. Like so many other memories, I wouldn’t trade it for gold.
To those who will share in the bounty of my green bean casserole and all the other traditional Thanksgiving bounty tomorrow—away from family, away from the shelter and safety that I knew growing up—I say “thank you” for giving me this opportunity. The gift is small, and in some way even impersonal. Yet I trust that when I stand in my kitchen tomorrow morning, I will know what giving thanks is all about, and I somehow will carry this to the table I share with friends on Thanksgiving day.
Thanksgiving 2010—Santa Fe, New Mexico (November 23, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis
Monday, November 15, 2010
“There been times that I thought I wouldn't last for long
Now think I'm able to carry on
It's been a long, a long time coming but I know
A change gonna come, oh yes it will”
(“A Change is Gonna Come” Sam Cooke)
Okay, I’m up to my ears with myself. This attitude that’s causing me to want to slap the crap out of way too many people is weighing me down. It’s also clear to me that I’m not alone in this boat. I wish I could blame it on something—the weather (which is gorgeously sunny and cold), retired interlopers in this town who are blessed with more than their share of disposable income (of which I am one—sort of), a sense of privilege that is frankly without foundation, a lack of something, but what I don’t know. Well, I forgot. I do know.
A few weeks ago, someone with whom I share many noon hour Wednesdays in a group of similar-minded sojourners told those gathered that she just doesn’t have anything to say, to say, that is, in her journal. She recently lost her aged mother, who lived near her other aging offspring in their homeland across the Atlantic. Life here in the west is somehow not as harmonious as my friend would like, but she can’t quite put her finger on the source of this dissonance. Maybe Raven, who I’ve just noticed calling beyond the energy-efficient patio doors of my condo, has an answer. I need one because I've been feeling the same lack of harmony.
The recent elections gave voice to the dissatisfaction pervading our land. And though I am forced to tip my hat to the will of the majority—at least those who have expressed a will—I distrust that the prospect of change now set in motion is any real chance of change at all. All of it is too wearying, for me—this prospect of business as usual.
Against a background of selfishness that parades itself wherever we look, I am reminded of the message at the heart of what I read each day from a monthly collection of readings, and I what I hear each Sunday when I gather with others who at least seem to claim this message. We read about and listen to this message about Truth and Love. We even repeat the words printed for us to speak collectively. We sing songs about Oneness with Spirit. Two weeks ago I asked the two friends with whom I sat for the Sunday gathering if they understood what the minister had said during her talk. “No,” they both replied, yet each said that he was glad to have been at the gathering. I puzzled over that for a while, and as I sat listening yesterday, I told myself that I was going to remember the message at the heart of her talk. The words that took up the better part of 30 minutes seemed clear at the time, yet got lost in the after hours. What I remember is the funny story the minister told toward the beginning of her talk. That message is clear—way too many of us think that we’ve got it right. And there the disharmony begins. There’s not room for all of this ego.
There’s not room enough for me to scowl at others in the aisle or checkout stand of the supermarket. There’s not room enough for me to plow through the parking lot as if I’m the only car trying to make its way safely out of the lot and back home. There’s not room enough for me to come unhinged at someone who doesn’t move through the stop sign or traffic light to suit my immediate pleasure. There’s not room enough for me to treat the virtually anonymous voice on the other end of a wireless connection with disdain. There's not room enough for me to make a practice of embracing seemingly unfriendly comments, which as I have been taught, are really not about me anyway. I see way too much privilege and way too many people behaving as if they alone are privileged. I see this, and too often I behave just like the “shithead” that one of the female characters described in the play I saw with friends yesterday.
Sometimes I catch myself thinking like a jerk, and though I spare myself and others the discomfort of acting out, I’m still left with a single recognition. I’m choosing to be disconnected. I’m choosing to find fault and assign blame. I am choosing to become the Disharmony. The real challenge to be answered is how do I find my way back?
A Change is Gonna Come—Santa Fe, New Mexico (November 15, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis