Thanks Unspoken for Things Unknown

“I never liked turkey,” my mother confessed to me several weeks before her death.

I had just offered to heat up some leftovers from the previous day’s holiday dinner, which she had eaten with seeming enthusiasm. It had been one of those rallying moments that the healthy label “miraculous” but which, as my mother was now pointing out, require some sacrifice from the infirm. Lying there in a hospital bed that dominated the small living room of her and my father’s condo, she had been well aware of the significance of the gesture. Her own mother had come to share the meal, and the hopeful smile on my grandmother’s face was ample reward for swallowing a few bites of turkey.

A day later, however, there was no need to perpetuate the myth. “I only cooked turkey all those years because the family liked it,” my mother continued with the tone of relief that comes only from telling a long-hidden truth. “Mom Basting the Turkey” images flickered through my mind as if inside an old-time kinetoscope. This time, however, the sepia tones of nostalgia were tinted with guilt and grief, a once-bright penny turned green.

There was much that my mother, like countless other mothers of her generation, bore in silence. She had her occasional moments of frustration, especially after treatment after treatment failed to cure her cancer, but mostly she held up a solid front. This was, after all, what one expected from Mother, the traditional archetype. If the holiday season demands anything from us, it demands fealty to both tradition and archetype.

And so, this Thanksgiving, I read and listened as folks shared thanks for the standard list of reasons and recipients. I also read and listened as the opposing side voiced equally generic complaints about the holiday, lacing their mock apple pies with cynicism instead of cinnamon. Same penny, different faces: one side sepia, one side green. 

In the end, I have to say I side more with sepia. Why? Because my mother sacrificed too much all those years to jade her memory—our memories—today. She cooked all those turkeys as a gift to her family, and that memory stands as a tribute to a type of selflessness that can be rather hard to discern amidst today’s scenes of hyperconsumerism. We can certainly question its origins and debate its evolution, but the fact remains that in our household at least, my mother did what she did out of love. “Thanks” is the least I can say in return.

Fits and Starts

“Let’s get started.”

It seems odd to say something like that at the age of fifty, but here I am, writing the first entry of my first blog. Milestone birthdays are as good a time as any for embarking on big projects, I guess. For me, it’s a hybrid sense of retrospection and inspiration, of looking back in order to move forward.

That’s the idea behind the “vivid ellipsis.” Something concrete leads to something unknown, something unwritten or unsaid. It’s an invitation for reflection and, to some extent, prediction. It’s someone saying, “If you think back on what was just said, you’ll be able to figure out what’s about to come.” The past informs the future. But for the space of those three dots, the present mystifies.

At fifty, I’m still plenty mystified. It suits me in a way. Perhaps it explains why my life has been a series of fits and starts in all sorts of directions. Here in this blog, I hope to make some attempt at bringing it all together and teasing out the inner wisdom of whatever attracts or distracts me, be it a news story, a new music album, a recently read book, or yesterday’s football game. Along the way, I hope to share some words, music, and images of my own.

Friends and family members will no doubt see themselves here and there, as will people whose momentary acquaintance sparked great transformations in my life. Today, for example, I’m thinking a great deal about my father, who passed away earlier this year. This is my first birthday as an orphan, and it’s felt quite different from anything I had expected. In my adult life, birthdays usually meant a card and a phone call from Dad—nothing much. Even so, the absence this year stuns me.

At the same time, I’m thinking of several of my morning swimming companions from my days back in Manhattan. One of them, C.A., convinced me years ago that I could learn how to do a flip-turn in my middle age. Turns out he was right. The other regulars, Bobby and Jerry, were living proof that even as we got older, we could still get better. So while I practiced my tucks and push-offs, a man in the next lane, Leo, slowly lifted one arm out of the water and reached over his head, pulling himself forward at a fraction of our pace. Well into his seventies, Leo was just learning to swim.

And so it begins. I dive in and take my first few strokes in the world of blogdom. Luckily, I’ve got some good mentors in the neighboring lanes, from C. Dale to Lisa O. to a whole slew of others. It’s all part of this ongoing and glorious conversation we call life, and you can’t put an end point on that. Chris Martin sings “I’d rather be a comma than a full stop” in the new Coldplay song “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall.” I wonder if he’s familiar with the ellipsis…