This is where I share my thoughts on just about everything. Here’s a look at what I’ve been thinking lately
A Thanksgiving Memory (with apologies to John Hughes)
Years ago, I was volunteering with the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Catholic Church’s organization geared toward helping the impoverished. Year round, we would collect money and distribute it to those in need, paying utility bills, rent and filling pantries. Like many churches, we would put together Thanksgiving baskets. The feeling was that everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy the holiday the way those of us with more could. It was more than a meal, it was hope for a better day somewhere down the road.
One year, as we were handing out the baskets in front of the church rectory, a middle-aged man pulled up in a station wagon, dropped the tailgate and simply said, “Just put it there next to the other ones.” He had at least four other gift baskets from other charities in the back of his car. I stood there, basket in hand, appalled at his hubris.
At that point, father Clarence walked up behind me, assessed the situation and simply said, “Get the hell out of here you son of a bitch.” The man left in a snit, remarking that he had never heard a priest use that kind of language.
I’ve been that guy, expecting the world to give me something that I haven’t yet earned. I’ve been jealous of those with more, of those who made the right choices or worked a little harder than me. I have never been a fan of hard work or money. My choices have left me, at times, broke and envious. It is at those times that I have to re-group and remember the things that my parents did for me, for all their children.
My father worked and worked and worked. He built our house with his own hands after work and on the weekends. We raised a few farm animals and planted garden. My dad bought us shoes every spring and fall from his compadre, a guy he grew up with in northern New Mexico. We always had plenty to eat, a warm home and Sunday dinner, but Thanksgiving was special.
My mother would spend two days getting things ready and on Thanksgiving Day, she would put the turkey in the oven at 4:00 AM and baste it every hour while she peeled potatoes, baked bread, made stuffing and pies. There was the mid-morning break while we went to church and then back to the house where we assembled, set the table, put the finishing touches on the grandest meal of the day and then sat down to a mid-afternoon feast. We didn’t have to announce what things we were grateful for because that would have been belaboring the obvious.
There were fewer distractions back then. Thanksgiving today is an afterthought. Its main purpose is to mark the beginning of the shopping season, becoming the Holy Trinity of fall. There’s Black Friday followed by Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. Not a holiday season goes by without someone getting trampled to death at a Wal-Mart. There is this sudden rush to prove to the world that we can consume more, own more, have more than anybody else.
On the other side of the coin are the have nots, those people that we think of only between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We donate to food pantries, stuff our change into a red kettle and hand an extra dollar or two to the homeless guy standing at the intersection. People tend to take advantage of this seasonal generosity. Every year come the warnings about keeping your Christmas purchases hidden in the trunk of your car and how delivery vans are being followed by an army of thieves just waiting for your packages to be dropped off at your door. There are the fake GoFundMe accounts, fund drives and phone solicitors purporting that this family or that has lost everything in a fire. They are all just a newer version of that middle-aged guy in the station wagon that Father Clarence called on the carpet so many years ago.
Thanksgiving is our celebration of abundance. Our abundance is one of the reasons that people from around the world want to come here, it is the reason that so many people here want more and why some people believe that those who have so much should share with those who have so little. Some years we are up, and some we are down. Let’s not get so down that we become “that guy.”
Were you there?
were you there that day, Lord, when the twin towers fell
and on the gallows when we sent that dictator to hell
were you there when the man broke his vows to his wife
and that lonely, young girl finally took her own life
when that animal, Lord, for absolutely no reason
was finally hunted into extinction
were you there, Lord, when the mother killed the child in her womb
when the junkie took his last shot in that dark hotel room
when the young soldier’s legs were brutally shattered
and I stepped over him as if he’d never mattered
when a sick, homeless man, Lord, hand scrawled sign in hand
begged for only a fraction of what others have
were you there, Lord, when the gunman shot a classfull of kids
so that he’d be remembered for the evil he did
when the unemployed man full of shame and despair
lost his home to the bank that just didn’t care
when the woman who had been, Lord, raped and abused
lay down for the pornographer’s camera and crew
were you there, Lord, when the prisoner’s ultimate fate
was carried out in the yard by another inmate
when an old woman, her family and friends all now gone
simply gave up and died in the small nursing home
when the priest raped the child, Lord when the man beat his mate
our generation doomed to suffer the same fate
were you there, Lord, when the drunk coming home from the bar
killed a mother and her children driving home in their car
when the vulture crept closer to a child starved by war
when greed made one man rich and another man poor
a dog kicked and abused, Lord one child bullied another
when a young man deserted his child and her mother
of course, you were there, Lord and you must cry in sorrow
as your children have thrown away all their tomorrows
your mercy is as far as from east is to west
and we have selfishly put your love to the test
perhaps we will learn, Lord, to be your children again
and earn the right one day to stand in your heaven
Today’s Short Story
Because I’m older, I pee a lot, or more accurately, frequently. It’s just one of those things that happens and, while inconvenient at times, I’m okay with it. Life, you know? I don’t always make it to the end of a movie, I might have to excuse myself from a meeting for a few moments and I always have to remember to go to the bathroom before I leave one location on my way to another.
On one particular occasion, I was at a meeting, one of those long boring affairs where people drone on and on about nothing in particular on their way to no decision. It’s like everyone has to put in their two cents so they can feel important. I try not to speak unless I’m spoken to. During the course of the meeting, I felt the need to go, and, since nothing important was being said, I excused myself.
Our meeting was taking place in a private high school facility, very old school, if you’ll pardon the pun with older, well-kept buildings upgraded for today. The men’s room around the corner from the meeting room was clean and spacious with two polished, white urinals, one tall and one lower. I chose the taller of the two. Because high school boys are still high school boys no matter how posh or expensive the campus, there was a laminated sign above the urinals that said: Focus. Aim. Flush. I smiled as I took my stance, taking care to pull a little closer to the gleaming porcelain structure so as to adhere to the instructions.
As I stood there, I was admiring the cleanliness of everything before me and around me. This was certainly not like the high school bathrooms from my youth. Everything was gleaming, including the chrome plumbing that sprang from the top of the rectangular edifice. It was then that I noticed it. A single drop hanging from the gleaming pipes. It sat suspended on the edge of a large nut and was close to falling but somehow, defying gravity. I could see a spot on the top of the porcelain where the drop had fallen before. It was a small, dry water stain, discolored and not very obvious, but no moisture to speak of. How long had this drop been hanging there?
I stood, mesmerized by the possibility of its falling, but the watery jewel just clung to the plumbing. As I put myself back together, the vibrations from my movement created the slightest ripple in the droplet, but it refused to fall. I stood there for a moment, admiring it before reaching for the flush handle, pushing it firmly down to send a torrent of water into the urinal. Again, the droplet quivered but held fast. I smiled and turned away to wash my hands, keeping one eye on it behind me in the mirror.
When I returned to the meeting, I couldn’t keep my mind on the proceedings, not difficult when you consider the content. I was fixated on that sparkling bit of moisture and why it refused to fall. It was almost as if it were defying me. A few times I was asked for my opinion or comment on a matter and I had to defer to another person on the committee because of my lack of the knowledge at hand. Was the drop’s purpose to distract me?
After the meeting, as people picked up their materials and conversed, carrying the meeting’s discussions beyond the confines of our gathering, I excused myself as per my ritual of going before I go. I was, I must confess, a bit anxious to find out if the drop had fallen. I entered the restroom cautiously, making sure that no one was there at my station. The restroom was empty. I stepped up to the urinal and there it was, suspended as before. I ran my hand across the smooth porcelain to see if this was s new drop. The top was dry and smooth except for the small patch where a previously perched droplet had fallen and dried. I unbuttoned, staring at the dangling driblet. Was it mocking me? I felt so. I tapped my foot. Nothing. I tapped a little harder, the vibrations making their way up the wall to the little pearl which shimmied but held firm. I raised myself up onto my tip-toes and dropped heavily onto my heels which produced a greater tremor that left the gleaming bead grinning at me.
I started to raise myself up again, but thought that if someone had heard the first thump that they might think something weird was going on and would come rushing in. I pretended not to notice this bit of pooled condensation, thinking it might fall to regain my attention. Nothing.
When my business was finally concluded, I brought my fist down ham-handedly onto the flush handle. It created a visible tremor in the plumbing and the droplet shook violently in an up and down motion, but as stubbornly as ever, it hung on. I buttoned and zipped my pants, buckled my belt and turned on my heel, washing my hands for longer than normal as I stared menacingly at the drop in the mirror. I swear I saw it wink at me.