11/26/2017 11:51 AM
I am sitting at my favorite diner. Church, the morning service at least (I preach at a second church in the evening) is done. My kids are off and the woman I love is on her way south to Massachusetts. Last night the four of us celebrated a late Thanksgiving with each other.
My son and I spent Thanksgiving day with my family down in Virginia, a tradition that goes back to when I was a child. My daughter had to work on Thanksgiving, up here in Vermont at the oldest inn in the state. The woman I love stayed so she could spend part of Thanksgiving with her daughter. Such is the way of second marriages and families that grow up and build lives of their own. Traditions shift and change and become new things.
We had turkey and ham, traditions in my household. My wife brought seafood, a new tradition I think I could get used to. We ate in the dining room and even though we started late, it was a long lingering kind of meal, my kids and my new bride and I all celebrating together.
I consider myself fortunate. My kids have adopted my wife without any visible hesitation. When we are together the time is warm and full of laughter. There is honest sharing, playful bickering, and at times, heartfelt discussions. That kind of warmth and acceptance is not an automatic thing is second marriages.
Second marriages are full of different dynamics than a first. You both have your own families, traditions, and ways of doing things. Those dynamics are often hard, even painful. Not everyone is going to accept, much less embrace these new elements into their family. There can be jealous, fear, anger, worry, a whole mishmash of emotions that come into play. It can be, and often is, a mess. More often than not, I’d guess.
So I feel particularly blessed when we all sit around a table or in the living room and talk and laugh and just hang around, comfortable and dare I say it? A family. Somehow, miraculously, a family.
I had nothing to do with it. No matter what I said or did, in the end, our coming together depended entirely on the willingness of my son and my daughter and the woman I love to open themselves to each other, to accept, to work letting each other in, to give each other a chance.
A lot of families can’t do that in second-time-around marriages. There are emotions and history and anger and fear and suspicion and just a zillion reasons, some of them justified, some not, but all real to the people having them. Us new people in the second marriage are going to make mistakes. We haven’t grown up with the other person’s family. We don’t know the dynamics, the history, or the baggage. It’s a minefield and we are going to step on the mines. It’s just going to happen, no matter how we try to avoid them.
So in the end, whether the two groups of people become a family or not has little to do with us. It has more to do with whether people will give us a chance. To risk the possibility that this new man or woman in our parent’s lives might be a good person, might be good for our mother or father in a way no one else could be, to risk that they might even be someone that we might (gasp!) like. And as I count my blessings this year, I could the fact that my kids and the woman I love were able to open themselves to the possibility. That my friends and my wife’s friends too, have opened themselves to this new person in the mix. I’ve done nothing to deserve that grace.
But then that is what grace is. Undeserved favor. I was fortunate enough to marry a woman of grace and blessed enough to have raised children of grace. And so as I sit here and think over the holiday, and think through my blessings, that grace of others is at the forefront of my life. I’m not good enough to “deserve” grace. And yet, my life is full of it.
I may be a little late writing all this. I have read so many wonderful posts and essays by friends and writers about all the things they are grateful for. And what have I written over the last few days?
Nada. Nothing. Zip.
I always have trouble writing when I travel to my childhood home I don’t know why. It could be psychological – my dad really resisted my writing in a name-calling, curse word-filled, demeaning way for many years. I guess that could have been scarring, Or it could just be that my family, for the most part, is an early rising bunch. They wake up earlier than me and when I come down in the morning, we fall into conversation. I don’t get to plunge into my morning of writing. Or maybe I am just too busy. I don’t get down to see family very much and when I am there, I like to fill my time being with them. Sneaking off for a few hours to write or create seems somehow ungrateful.
I don’t know the reason I hit the wall in writing when I am with family. I just do.
And when I come back, even after just a few days, I am always afraid. I am afraid that I won’t be able to get back into the groove. That I will have somehow lost my ability to string together words in a meaningful manner, that suddenly, nothing I write will touch anyone. It’s an unreasonable fear. I know that. It never happens, but still, the fear remains and so I get up on my first day home and sit down to write, not in the free, open way I write most days, but with trepidation.
When it begins to flow (and it always does), there is a huge relief. I feel blessed, Fortunate. Joyful. I feel… gratitude.
I missed my wife, the woman I love, while I was down in Virginia. It did not surprise me that I missed her, but it did surprise me how much. We’ve only been married six months, and I had spent more than a decade living alone before that. I am conformable with solitude and traveling alone, introvert that I am. Because we ping-pong between her apartment in Massachusetts and my house in Vermont, we often spend a night or so apart each week,
But this was different. I think it was different because Thanksgiving is all about gratitude, and one of the blessings I am most grateful for is her presence in my life. And so, I felt the apartness more intensely this trip. I felt like I had not seen her in weeks and there was such joy in being with her. It’s absurd in a way, particularly for a 62-year-old man. But there you go. Can’t fight the heart. It wins every time.
On the trip to Virginia, we went down to the family farm in Surry County. We visited my aunt who lives in the same house my grandfather lived in. And we walked back into the woods to the mill pond, one of my favorite places in the world. My son and I enjoyed the walk and the quiet. In a clearing on one end of the pond is a small log cabin. Just one room. My father and my grandfather build it the year before I was born, in 1954. As my son walked around the point of the pond (it is almost a lake, 42 acres), I was alone, in silence, I sat next to the cabin and had a chance to think over my life, the good and the bad, the silly and tragic and stupid and amazing. It was the kind of thinking you can only do well when you are alone.
I had more of that kind of thinking on the drive back to Vermont, and even more this morning as I sit here at the diner, my family spread in four different directions.
And again, I am grateful. I have a healthy mix of together and alone time. I am loved and I have friends. I have people to love, I have family that likes each other. The list is madly long. Not that life is all good. Not that I haven’t blown my share of things and made my share of mistakes. Not that I haven’t been blindsided by life a time or two, or had life whittle way at me and slowly pull me apart. No perfection in this life.
But no shortage of things to be grateful for either. No shortage of grace. Undeserved favor. It is a centerpiece of my Christian faith, grace, and a centerpiece of my good fortune in life, that I am surrounded by people who give me grace, give me a chance, allow me to fail while still extending love.
So happy Thanksgiving my friends. Even if it is a few days late, Gratitude and grace are no less powerful on the days after Thanksgiving than the day itself. Give yourself more than the day to think it over and be grateful. Your life will be richer for it.
Be well, Travel wisely,
PS – the picture was taken at the cabin my father and grandfather built.