We’ve said what we’re thankful for. What are we hopeful for?
The first Thanksgiving was a pathetic affair between starving pilgrims and starving Native Americans. Hard to improve on that. There was no turkey, wild or otherwise.
Flash forward, tumbling centuries like dominoes, and we have hungry homeless and ravaged reservations. The big dog is an equal-opportunity joker. Draught and fire in blue California, gale and flood in red Florida. Hatred and division at every turn. Pick your poison: court, Congress, war in Ukraine, pro-choice or pro-life, no lack of targets. Reads like Donald Trump’s first State of the Union. Nobody is sitting down to dinner with anybody else — not without knives out. What is there to celebrate?
I walk the dog at dusk and a Bengal cat, slippery as quicksilver, paws his way up to us. He is hungry and homeless, too. He has the coat of a bobcat, but he means no harm. Don’t go anthropomorphizing; we can’t say he’s lonely. Don’t believe he likes us, or even that he expects us to feed him. I’ve seen him scavenging. Life is hard. He has no collar. Did he slip out one day from a happy or unhappy home? Maybe he just scents the dog and wants to play. No answers.
We walk on. What do we do with the wild ones — the lost, the vagrant, the refugees from chaos and calamity? It’s a cold world. Those with enough, or too much, think they deserve it. No one deserves anything. There’s a lot of luck in life, my father always said. The flap of a butterfly’s wing and it’s all changed. The doctor dials your number. You step into the street. A screaming rocket comes across the sky and Putin pummels your house, your town, your right to be. Justice is blind, they say. Except if you are poor, unsound of mind, traumatized, dressed in a container of pigment without the resources to lawyer up. Trump will never serve a day.
In a nursing home in Long Beach, a nurse holds the hand of an old woman who has no family at her bedside. She wipes a damp cloth across the woman’s lips, massages her fingers, watches the drip-drip into her veins. The monitor slows and slows, its cadence diminishing with the day. She checks her watch; her shift was over long ago. She doesn’t get up. If not her, who? She says a prayer. There is silence in the room. No one will thank her. No statue will be built.
In an apartment in the Tenderloin, 3,000 miles from the nation’s capital, a Korean War veteran struggles with his slippery mobile phone, still a stranger to him. He thumbs the screen to revisit the pictures from his Honor Flight to Washington. At the airport, nameless travelers applauded him, the only one of his flight from the war before Vietnam. It still meant something when he saw the small flags wave as he boarded the plane. Was he imagining things, or were there tears in the eyes of the observers? And what of his own, were there still tears welling up?
In a classroom in the Bronx sorely in need of a new coat of paint, with a concrete courtyard where grass should grow, a teacher devises her own song to deliver a lesson in math. She makes half of what she could programming software, boosting boxes in an Amazon warehouse, selling houses, attending to flights, dispensing marijuana. Nothing wrong with any of these. Why, then, doesn’t she move on? Perhaps she will someday. The shortage of teachers is acute across the country. We don’t do anything about it — as if those who do the most should make the least. Our arrogance and ignorance are damning. The shining city on a hill needs a car wash, yet receives only a dirty rag from the squeegee man at the stop light. The song remains.
The America you see is the one you want to see. Every day brings darkness and light. We need Thanksgiving. Need it every day. Wake with a smile and check the obits, as my dad did. With grace, you’re not there. As a poet friend, Irene Rouse, wrote: “I’m living, I’m living still, and I turn to you and stare.” She was a mother to me. Took me in as a stray pup. I’d had another mother, a caretaker underpaid to look after me while my own mother worked hard outside the house. How blessed I was, a man with three mothers! And for 40 years, the man-child to a wife who must have seen something that eludes me to this day.
I could whine about my prostate, my blood pressure, the twilight of my working years. I wouldn’t care to hear it. I’m above the dirt another day. I give thanks. Say a little prayer. Goodnight, Irene.