November, the month that begins with the syllable “No.”
And this year, in 2016, the month when more than half of the Americans who voted woke up to discover the country in which they lived was not the one in which they thought they lived.
What is there to say yes to in November, particularly this one?
On the night of November 16, I dreamed that my father (who died in 1991, and whom I adored) reached me on the phone.
Oh how happy we were! “Cres?” His voice was instantly recognizable to me, and what a surge of joy I felt, hearing it over the phone (in my dream, a phone with an old-fashioned receiver).
And now it is three days later than when I dreamed that dream. It is the third anniversary of my mother’s death.
In November, the days are short, often gray. And now, this November, set against the larger backdrop of the recent terrifying, unbelievable election. In November, I enter the stacked time of remembrance. I move again in the dense potency of personal loss.
November 19, 2013: my mother’s death.
November 23: my father’s birthday.
November 25: my own birthday (I will be 64 this year. My friend Beverly says, “Enjoy it. It’s the last year with any good songs.”).
November 30, 2000: the death of my husband, in his mid 40s. Accident.
Somewhere in all of this: Thanksgiving. And with it, the often-asked Thanksgiving question, “What are you thankful for? ”
But, to my own surprise, improbably but sincerely, and not just because I know gratitide is good for all of us, I find I am thankful, and grateful.
Somewhere in all the personal grief, inherent to it, is this: I loved them all so. My mother, my father, my husband.
Yet grief, fierce path though it is, does not leave those of us who grieve emptyhanded. I have come to understand that loss and grief are always the price tag of love. That no cell of our physical selves, of those we love and our lovely world, is a keeper. We say hello, then goodbye. We embrace, then are torn from those and what we love.
I miss them because I loved them. That is why in my dream my heart leapt like a porpoise in at hearing my father’s voice again after 25 years. Why, when I unexpectedly come across a drawing or a note from my late husband, as I still sometimes do, perhaps folded into a book, I find I automatically press it to my lips. Grief says: I loved them. I loved and was loved.
And thus, grief leads me, peculiarly but truly, to gratitude: I am thankful they were in my life and I in theirs. I am thankful that I experienced love so sound it resounds, even decades (in some cases) after their deaths. Grief is love, just not an iteration we enjoy, or would ever choose. I am grateful that I loved my parents, my husband, so deeply that I grieve their loss. Still and always.
This year many of us are also grieving on a societal level. If you are one of the “many” in this category, you may perceive losing a country with ideals we loved, perhaps losing a planet we also loved, and sought to protect.
So, the question, “What are you thankful for? ” is, cannot be, trivial or superficial or mere parroted tradition. Not in the face of such vast grief and loss. And not, especially, at this moment in our history.
Parsing my despair following this election, I came (painfully) to some of the knowledge that personal loss had given me.
I am thankful that I love this precious earth and the creatures on it. That I love the best American ideals – freedom, equality, justice, democracy – so fiercely that I am willing and able to temper my despair at an election that looks to me like the signing of their death warrant. Temper it how? With loving, constant, steady, thoughtful action, even if I do not know what, yet, those actions will be. By feeling, but then laying aside, despair. By beginning again, one more time.
I do this just on the outside chance that at least that life (of planet and ideals) may not yet be permanently extinguished. Whether or not it proves to be, I must know for myself that I did everything in my very limited power to act in its behalf. To stand with the oppressed and voiceless, with those groups of people who are threatened as well as our shared Earth. I must do that regardless of outcome, and whether I know that outcome. I have been doing a lot of thinking about the partisans and resistance workers hiding in the woods of France and Italy during World War II, how so many of them died not knowing that that tyranny would be defeated. They did the right thing without guarantee. They did it because it was right, moral, ethical. They were willing to die to live fully; they knew conscience to be a compass, not a weathervane, and they steered by it.
That, I feel, is what many of us are called to do: nothing more or less than what is kind, decent, compassionate, truthful. We are called to become love warriors.
All this is a burden and a privilege to carry into this season of grief and thanksgiving. To be big enough to love in the face of loss, actual and possible. To believe that love is not only larger than hate, but larger than time and loss. Larger also than we can understand fully, ever.
We can’t understand it, we can only live it. Attempt, however imperfectly, however many times we falter, over and over again.
I am thankful that I choose love and that it has chosen me.