Monday, November 29, 2010

A Whole Bucket of Gratitude--and Questions

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. There's less hype than at Christmas, plenty of food, good company (if you're lucky), and a reminder to pause and give thanks. It feels so simple and lovely and honest.

But to be frank, giving thanks is challenging me these days. That's not quite true. I think I live with a grateful heart. I'm keenly aware that my life is full of really good things: a loving family, wonderful friends who know me and love me well, a good job (which I just quit, but more on that later), a home that's safe and warm, a kitchen full of food, a child who amazes me, the capacity to take care of her...The list is very, very long and includes less obvious things like books by Joyce Carol Oates and Ian McEwan, chocolate-filled peppermint sticks, and the way it feels to sit beside the fireplace on a cold night and talk with Jason for an hour about the funny and wonderful things Hadley did that day.

Therein lies the rub for me right now. I'm wondering about this God who has blessed us so wildly, so abundantly, so lavishly.

During our trip to Chicago a few months ago, we were out walking on Michigan Avenue one night when we passed a woman, sitting on the sidewalk with her two children. One was a young teenager, the other, probably six or seven. The little one had fallen asleep on her mama's lap, facing the tide of tourists shuffling by. I could barely breathe looking at them. Can you imagine putting your baby to bed on your lap in the midst of a group of strangers? And that teenager...It's hard enough to deal with that crazy transition to adulthood without announcing to the world that you have no home. Can you imagine? No privacy, no place to agonize by yourself over zits or boys or the way your ears suddenly seem to be sticking out. No place that feels safe.

The mama-love got me. (My friend Lauren, who is expecting her second child any nanosecond now, told me once: "Being pregnant the second time is different because you already know the mama-love." So I must give her credit for that absolutely perfect phrase.) I started to cry, and we stopped by a store to buy some food. If I'm honest, it wasn't sacrificial giving; we bought the food more for me than for them. I needed to feel better. I couldn't go to sleep knowing that a mom a few blocks from our hotel would wake her children up in the morning and not have a meal to give them.

I still feel the ache in my heart for that little family. Maybe that mom did something terrible to end up begging for money on a busy sidewalk. Maybe she didn't. It doesn't much matter to me. I believe in personal responsibility, but there are plenty of good things in my life that I didn't do a thing to deserve. And the sad corollary to that fact is that people endure bad things they don't deserve either.

So I don't quite understand the blessings imbalance. I believe in a very big God, a very loving God, a God who is powerful and true and kind and just. I suspect that some day, we'll understand why the world is the way it is. But for now, in the midst of feeling more gratitude than I've ever felt, I feel more puzzled than I've ever felt.

I'm hoping I figure this out, reconcile it in my mind, because one day, this person who shares my genes is going to wonder why one mama gets to blog and post funny pictures of her baby online, where a sea of at least five people reads and posts nice things, while another sleeps on the street. What will I tell her?

I don't know, but for now, I will join Hadley in appreciating simple things, like pigtails, Elmo, treats (her new favorite word), twinkly lights and the 24-hour-Christmas-music radio station.

I think it's fabulous that people start out as babies, not yet ready to ask life's biggest questions, because mamas and daddies need time to prepare. For that, I am thankful.

1 comment:

  1. I must admit I read your blog Monday and just could not respond then. I now think that not responding has given me time to think of what you wrote, and part of me believes that God wanted me to think about this! That is why he placed you in Chicago on Michigan Avenue, and then later to write this blog. So people will think and reflect on all that we do have, that others do not. That does not make their situation any better, but perhaps the prayers we pray for them, will help us in some way.