Lament, give thanks, and savor the tacky: A reflection on Thanksgiving and the Days Thereafter
I think it was in the early winter of 1996 when I won a gaudy set of dishes, flatware, and stemware simply by chucking my name in a box at the Watertown SD Target.
My late husband and I were buckling down for another winter storm in our rural home when we got a call from a Target employee. I picked up the phone, and the woman at the other end asked to speak with Anna Madsen. “This is she,” I said. “Ohmygosh are you SOOOOO lucky! You just won the fanciest 8 place setting set that we have ever HAD!”
I hung up the phone, jumped in the air, and said to Bill, “I just won AGAIN!”
Turns out that I must have been living right according to some force in the universe, because I really had been on a streak: in our waning days at seminary I’d guessed how many pounds a gigantic pumpkin was and won us a couple of handsome steaks, and at a different spot had guessed how many M and Ms were in a jar and won us a gift card to a nice place to eat–both bonanza prizes for broke seminarians, I’ll tell you what.
Anyway, we analyzed the incoming storm for all of a nanosecond, and then hopped in the car to inch ourselves to our new schmancy table settings.
Gold-rimmed white bowls and dinner and salad plates, and gold-rimmed beveled leaded stemware, and gold plated silverware, and all of it made in FRANCE!!!
Truly, the set was so gaudy-awful that it was perfect. We were positively delighted.
And I still have them.
Every year I take out this over-the-top Liberace-like table setting, and I am so thankful for every garish piece.
Truth is, I suppose I could afford a new set that would be more my style: simple Scandinavian sleek, probably.
But every time I burrow in the buffet to rustle them up and out because some special meal is about to be served, I find my eyes glistening a bit.
Bill isn’t any longer at our table.
Nor are any number of other people whom I have loved.
Perhaps that’s why this awful setting means more to me than their appearance suggests that they should: they aren’t just plates, but are memories.
After the accident in 2004, I remember finally understanding the biblical genre called ‘apocalyptic.’ It’s written by people suffering beyond measure, who if not despairing are on the brink of it because their pain is so great.
It was then that I realized that I would never fully comprehend pure joy ever again.
I finally got apocalyptic, crying in my bedroom for Jesus to finally come, for the grief and the fear and the exhaustion and the wrenching pain to end–and not just for me! I finally realized that if I were feeling such angst through my tragedy, imagine all of the other tragedies people were enduring–and barely at that–that I had not allowed myself to comprehend, or even notice.
Thanksgiving was the first holiday I had to meet head-on without Bill, and with a young son so very wounded, and a tiny daughter whose life was profoundly affected in ways that she hadn’t even clearly marked yet.
For what, I asked myself, for what could I be possibly thankful this year?
It is probably worth noting that for years, while I know and appreciate the embroidered saying many hang next to their kitchen sinks, “I am thankful for the dirty dishes for it means that we have food to eat,” next to mine is a framed postcard given to me by a friend in Germany, “Abwaschen SUCKS!” (Doing dishes sucks!)
That is, thankfulness is worthy, but so is lament.
Yesterday was a day of lament for many of us, and for many reasons for many of us.
Native Americans have reason to lament every year on this day, as do those sympathetic to the righteousness of their anger and loss.
Those with broken families, with dysfunctional families, with missing members of families, with ill family members have reason to lament.
Those who have suffered the loss of vocations, of ideals, of hopes, of innocence: they have reason to lament.
Those who are acutely aware of others’ suffering have reason to lament.
And yet, lament, while it has its place, the world–life!–is worth more than just lament.
Lament can not define life.
There is reason to swing legs out of bed.
There are reasons for thanksgiving, even if, on occasion, meagre.
Sometimes all we can do is be thankful for the tacky.
Sometimes all we can do is be thankful for the memories.
Sometimes all we can do is be thankful for the promise that it is not supposed to be this way, and it will not–or, in some cases, need not–always be this way.
And sometimes that is enough to move us to, if nothing else, protest the reason(s) for our lament all the more.
Sometimes lament itself yields thanksgiving that throws us back into righteous lament that hurles us into powerful and empowering thanksgiving….
So today is the Day after Thanksgiving: yesterday I decided to follow suit with all those cool stores like REI and Costco and Patagonia and close up my OMG shop to be with my family to savor them and to give thanks.
Today, though, on this Black Friday, I am drawing upon my thanksgivings of yesterday, not least of all of eating off of those really awful and still-and-even-so sentimentally worthy plates, and definitively not buying a radically reduced replacement setting.
I lamented my way through the dishes, and am now thanking my way through my cozy fire time with content kidlets A and B around our wood stove; I am lamenting the state of our nation, and I am thanking my upbringing that taught me the courage to advocate and rabblerouse; and I am lamenting losses and giving thanks for fresh clarities and new beginnings; and I am lamenting that I ate so much, and that I somehow have more turkey now than I had when I stuck it in the oven, and yet I am thankful that I can cook it up, and freeze it into something new, and share it with new faces in this North Shore paradise.
And, let this be a moment to thank all of you who continue to support what I do through OMG. I have such terrific fun with this crazy venture, and am grateful that you encourage me to continue it!
Upshot of this blog entry:
And savor the tacky.
How perfect is this post today, my friend. I too, have walked this road with my kids. Searing, fall to your knees pain, and get up as you have two counting on you to show them the way. About a week after Tom’s funeral, I made a promise to myself. I would find something to be thankful for every day. One damn thing, and I did it! It still hurt every day, and yes, all those dreaded firsts still arrived. Yes, they hurt badly. And yet, we persevered and grew. Lament and give thanks and do it again and again. In my home, we are rich with love and thanksgiving.
Ooof. Thank you, Pat. Yes–‘searing’ is the word. When you suffer, you are desperate for any sign of life. Almost–if not actually–against your will, you gravitate toward whatever it is, for finding breath again is not just about you but about your kids–in fact, it is mostly about your kids, excepting that without a mama more in the land of the living than in the land of despair, they are essentially fending for themselves. That’s not ok, obviously. So you take care of yourself, to take care of them: you find reason again to move forward rather than wallow for you so that you can be for them. There is no choice: you have to gravitate toward life. And part of life, and of living richly, is living with thanksgiving for even the tiny, quirky, even painful graces of life. That thanksgiving generates more, even if but mere hints, of thanksgiving, and of joy, and soon, you find yourself with a smile snuck on your face, and you see that smile sneaking back on your kids’ faces, and you find yourself more thankful, and more joyful. Life never returns to what it was, but in some ways, actually, it becomes all the more vibrant in all of its colors–for which I also give thanks. Peace!
I love your column.
At 11, I began lamenting my father’s suicide. Sometime later I learned that Jesus’ “My God, my God . . . ” comprehended my father’s despair.
I learned that 90 out of 150 psalms are psalms of lament which sanctified the complaining which I would have complained, sanctified or not.
Since then, I have lots more to complain about and I have complained with vim and vigor!
If God listens to Israel complain for 3,000 years, he listens to me.