An enduring savor

Jackie and Virginia Costen and I enjoy a dinner that can’t be bought, Thanksgiving 2015

“If I summon up those memories that have left me with an enduring savor, if I draw up the balance sheet of the hours in my life that have truly counted, surely I find only those that no wealth could have procured me.”Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Most likely, today will seem like just another day in your life. But look again. There is something quite beautiful hidden in today, something you will one day long to have again.

Thanksgiving 2015 seemed fairly uneventful to us at the time, especially when compared with other holidays we had spent celebrating with extended family. Drew and Megan had bought a new home, and their move-in was scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend that year. Also, Daddy’s recent death was still fresh in our minds, and we didn’t feel like planning a big celebration. Jeff, Matt and I would have spent the holiday alone, except that our church family has a tradition of always holding a Thanksgiving meal at the building for anyone who has no big gathering to attend elsewhere.

One year, Thanksgiving happened to fall on our church’s turn in the rotation to work at the local homeless shelter, so we had a festive Thanksgiving there with a huge crowd of people we mostly had never seen before, but it was a wonderful and quite memorable holiday for us. The sincere gratitude shown by people who literally had nowhere else to sleep at night, or even come in from the cold for a few hours, was a humbling experience. It gave new meaning to the holiday.

But in 2015, it was just a typical group who gathered at the aging fellowship hall of our church to enjoy one another’s company while sharing a pot luck Thanksgiving meal. To quote from Arlo Guthrie’s famous song about another church-building Thanksgiving dinner, it was a meal “that couldn’t be beat.”

Many hands made light work with plenty to eat for all.

See if you can spot anyone you recognize.

We didn’t know it, but this would be our last Thanksgiving photo together.

None of us dreamed it would be Jeff’s last Thanksgiving. Looking back, my gratitude for having a church family to share with us that day becomes deeper and more luminous.  What a beautiful day that was– and what would I not give now, to have another Thanksgiving exactly like that one? There was nothing flashy or expensive about the day, but no amount of wealth could have bought it for us.

I can pretty much guarantee you that there is something special about where you are today– maybe it’s your health, or the presence of loved ones, or just the contentment that goes along with a day when nothing much seems to happen– but there is almost certainly something that one day will reveal itself to you as a treasure you didn’t fully realize. Today I invite you to join me as we seek to open our eyes, insofar as we can, to the hidden gifts today will bring.

 

34 Comments

  1. Megan

    Wow! These pictures caught me off guard this morning, and I was fighting tears by the time I got to the final caption. Thank you for the reminder that, despite any frustrations or annoyances we may face, there is so much to cherish about today — nothing we should take for granted. ❤ You are right, there is 'nothing special' about today, but a lot to be grateful for.

    • #1 things to be grateful for each day: Owen’s totally kissable cheeks and Grady’s cute little solemn voice!

  2. Thank you, Julia, this is beautiful. I’m glad that I missed reading it yesterday, which wasn’t a pleasant day in several aspects.
    But today IS a new day, and I look forward to it with relish! (Not necessarily the pickle kind 🙂 )

    • Susan, it’s amazing how often these blogs turn out to have been written for me to see on whatever day they publish. Monday was so, so, so difficult for me (beginning with a power outage that began sometime in the night and didn’t get fixed until late afternoon, and a cracked windshield, and a long drive in traffic…) At the end of the day I said to myself, HA! Go find something beautiful about today, go ahead! And then, taking my own dare, I did. After all, I walked into my house, had something to eat in peace, read some lovely things…Hope your new day was an improvement on the previous one! Mine was, if only in the absence of minor but seemingly major irritants.

      • I agree – those might not seem like only minor irritants at the time, but OH so irritating and inconvenient.
        I’m glad that you got out from under that dark cloud by days end and you were able to enjoy some pleasant moments, too.
        Yes, we can find something good in every day. Today is supposed to be endless rain, but for a few minutes now (before the rain starts?) I see a bit of golden morning light illuminating an oak tree outside my window, a splash of color against the gray sky.

        • I love your word pictures. They conjure up a vivid scene in my mind, which may bear very little resemblance to what you are actually seeing, but probably has a close likeness in mood if not in detail. Isn’t it amazing how the little things eat away at us? I have sometimes thought that they are just an example of the psychological version of what Jeff used to call “referred pain” (when pain is felt at one site of the mouth but actually originates elsewhere). However, I’m beginning to think the myriad and seemingly ever-increasing irritations of modern life are having a cumulative effect on most all of us. Or maybe getting old is making me grouchy. 😀

  3. What a moment to always treasure. Although not the Thanksgiving celebration expected, still the warmth of sharing couldn’t be more evident. The unusual can become a benchmark for the usual to aspire to, because where there is sacrifice love abounds.
    -Alan

    • Thank you Alan, very well put. And “unusual” does not always mean “fabulous.”

  4. Such a lovely, heartfelt post, Julia. I’m glad we live day by day and that none of us have a crystal ball. It’s good to enjoy the ordinary and the extraordinary, but as you say, we often look back and find that are greatest joys were those spent gathered with good friends, beloved family and a good meal. I’m glad you have the extended family your church has to offer. The first Thanksgiving after our father died was more a day to get through then anything else. Mom had read that it was a good idea to do something completely different, so we did. We had our dinner at a beloved department store cafe, more common in the day then they are now. I remember it well, but mostly with a heavy heart. Wishing you strength as you approach another season of birthdays and holidays without Jeff. xo

    • Thank you, Alys. When I read of your first Thanksgiving without your father, the sadness was colored for me (literally, as in old photos) by my own memories of the cafes that used to be so common in stores. There was one in our local Woolworth’s, and I always thought it looked like a very grand place to eat. Once when I heard my parents talking about wanting to take someone out to eat, I suggested they go there, and was confused that they found the suggestion amusing. 🙂 I think I eventually did find some way to eat there, or at least have a coke there, and I don’t remember being disappointed. But of course my tastes were very simple, then as now, with the difference being that I realize how naive and “foolish” I was.

      I think some memories will always come back to us with the burden of a heavy heart. It’s a great mystery to me how many of these memories I would not choose to have blotted from my mind, and yet the pain is still a source of sadness. I think J. D. Salinger captured those mixed emotions so perfectly in his very last line in The Catcher in the Rye when he spoke of “missing everybody,” even those who had done him great wrong. On some level, we know and understand that even deep sadness is inevitably woven into the beauty of life.

  5. Bobby Harris

    What a treat to see our Virginia family loving and sharing. Made me homesick. Keeping you in my thoughts and prayers.

    • Thank you Bobby. I am so happy that you and Randall were there with us at the Arlington service. It meant more than I can say. The group you two led became our very first “home” in Virginia!

  6. More than one blog post (or following comment thereto) have referenced “not dreaming” some future event would take place. Since few things in the future are certain (“Taxes” being an exception), I am happy you have the “certainty” of memory of Thanksgiving, 2015.

    I have given no thought to Thanksgiving, 2017; but I have (literally) dreamed of no longer being alive by that date. Few things in the future are certain.

    • WOW, what an interesting dream. Were you already dead in the dream, or did you just dream of getting some sort of terminal diagnosis? I dream some crazy stuff but I don’t think I’ve ever dreamt of being dead or dying myself, except in the “monster” or “car crash” or other disaster variety, where one thinks death will come at any second. Jeff claimed never to remember any dreams, though over the years, there were one or two he did remember enough to tell me about. If he ever dreamed anything scary during his four years of living under a death sentence, he never mentioned it. But as you say, when you get right down to it, we all are living under a death sentence. That’s one of the fabled two certainties; you mentioned the other one already. 🙂

      • I was dead. In fact, I was with Jeff (he, like I, was dressed in casual “civies”). We were on a narrow peninsula, high above a glistening ocean. Yes, it was definitely not an island – there was a more narrow connection to the place from which we had come. Like Carlyle, before me, some of my dreams could easily become screenplays.

        • Eric, your last sentence made me think of the Mad Magazine character who said, so many years ago, that he dreamed “in glorious technicolor.” 🙂 It must be genetic because I have long and very vivid dreams as well. I’m going to imagine that in your dream, you and Jeff were (in G.K’s words) “laughing, gently, at all that seemed deadly serious once.” By the way…how did you know the dream was taking place before Thanksgiving 2017?

          • Julia, you ask how I knew the dream “was taking place” before Thanksgiving, 2017. I can tell you that I ha)ve never seen a calendar – or even a wrist-watch or clock – in any of my dreams. I do not want this to be a “dangling conversation”. I’m sure you will agree that Paul Simon’s genius shows in the words: “and you read your Emily Dickinson, and I my Robert Frost; and we note our place with bookmarkers that measure what we’ve lost . . .” (Though it is the third verse of that famous Simon & Garfunkel song that is really tragic.)

            And I am not superstitious, but I fervently read and believe James 4: 13-17.

            So, let me say I will try to answer your question by the time of your birthday, if the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that. (Last 12 words from the ESV New Testament

            • OK, no pressure. BTW my earliest memory of “The Dangling Conversation” was of Matt Overend playing and singing it when Carla asked him to play something. In my youth I was (and still am) a big fan of Robert Frost, but in midlife I became just as fond of Emily Dickinson. So I guess I could have dangling conversations with myself, hee-hee.

  7. Sheila

    Good morning, Julia. ☕️ You’ve helped me see life differently over the years and I’ll always be grateful. “Living As God’s Family Under A Cross” is what I see here, not only the words but the fellowship. How different this day would have been had these hands not prepared the food and the people not been together. It also looks as though much fellowship and happiness was being enjoyed! I have read (Megan shared) how you and Jeff have orchestrated many holiday meals so I’m sure those are happy memories, as well. Today, I’ll be more mindful of Bill, kinder to our relationship, and appreciate our togetherness. Retirement does have it’s challenges, haha! 👋🏻Hi to Matt! 👋🏻 Love, Sheila

    • Hi Sheila, yes, retirement is a whole new ball game. Just remember it’s a game, as with most others, that the players are lucky to take the field even when the going gets tough. 🙂 The November and December holidays have always been a festive time in our home. I learned that as a child, from watching my parents “make merry” at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I carried that tradition on. Now, of course, this time of year will forever be associated with sorrow as well. But perhaps there is some sort of divine clue in the winding down of the year, when everything appears to be dying, and yet the holiday season sparkles with the joy of friends and family, and promise that great surprises lie ahead. That’s how I will choose to see it now. 🙂 ❤

  8. Mike

    As I look toward the Georgia skies it seems a bit warmer there now -like 20 degrees. Yesterdays high in Atlanta 79 here in Seattle 58. I think I could go for a year without a Seattle winter. I assume not as much rain there in Atlanta. As you have mentioned before ,one of the benefits of living in this partcular eon is air travel , and when you consider the hardships once experience by those travelling cross country. I am reminded again of the Laura Ingalls comment when they left- Ohio that they would, “never see their grandparents again.”
    Things are a little hectic now with last minute packing. Please keep Verie in thoughts and prayer as she stays behind to get the house details ready for leasing.
    Yesterday Tom Hanks had a neat interview about his new book- a collection of short stories which sounds good each containing something particular about a typewriter of which he is obesessed. I pray these holidays may bring you some degree of joy in the midst of grief as Nouwen would say.

    • Mike, Matt and I have been praying for you and Verie as you complete this upcoming move, and we will continue to do so. My heart goes out to Verie, being well acquainted with relocation hassles and the mixed emotions in even the best and happiest of moves.

      I heard Hanks reading one of his stories on the New Yorker fiction podcast recently. Until he was a guest there, I had not even realized that he was writing fiction. I suppose I am a bit of an oddball in not being a Tom Hanks fan, though I loved his work in Saving Private Ryan and Apollo 13. I find it tiresome when celebrities get too political (and the recent, ever-broadening Weinstein scandal demonstrates how much hypocrisy often lies underneath, though I don’t think anyone would accuse Tom Hanks of such). In any case, I thought the Hanks story I heard was pretty good, but as always with such celebrity forays into other fields, it was tempting to wonder whether he would ever have gotten published if he was not famous. It was “pretty good” but IMO, not up to the usual New Yorker standards. Such are the down sides of living in a culture where artistic decisions are made primarily with a view to the bottom line. But as Raynard says, I digress…Let me know if you like the stories. Who knows, maybe Hanks has found a second career and will bloom there as more than a guaranteed sales commodity.

  9. Mike

    Here is another Nouwen quote” When we, like grapes are being crushed we don’t apprecaite the wine we may become.” That may be a misquote.

    • Last year I was given a copy of the book Genius Born of Anguish which was about Nouwen’s life and work. I haven’t yet read it but perhaps “soon” would be a good time. I like what I have read by Nouwen — Jeff read one of his daily devotional works to us one year as part of our dinnertime devotionals– and he certainly influenced, and was influenced by, some amazing people, among them Fred Rogers and Jean Vanier. Most of all I admire his choice to live and serve among adults with developmental disabilities in the L’Arche community.

  10. Mike

    That quote is from his little work- “Can you drink this cup.” More like- “When we are being crushed like grapes we don’t think of the wine we are becoming.” I first saw this quote on a placard at the Westport Winery close to our cabin-about ten miles north- now a destination stop for coastal visitors in our neck of the woods.
    There is now a storm system heading toward us -Northwest that stretches out to China if you can believe it. After 3 months wihout rain I suppose it is time to pay the piper. In this little book Nouwen talks quite about his work with the L’Arche community and friends h e made their including Bill who sometimes accompanied him on his travels. I have not heard of the book you mention above, but it sounds good.
    Perhaps in heaven we can catch up on all those books that are on our ever lengthening lists.

    • Mike, I had a friend who used to say that she imagined heaven as being a place without limitations, where she could do all the good she wanted to do and spend all the time she wanted to spend with people. After reading your comment I would be tempted to add “and read all the books I want to read.” Somehow when I was young I imagined that at 60 I would have nearly unlimited time for reading. That still hasn’t happened, but I suppose it does make the time I do have all the more precious. Isn’t it nice to have a long list of books you are waiting to read? It gives me something to look forward to, especially in bad weather.

  11. Mike

    I thought Steve Martin’s book was pretty good–“Shop Girl.” though kind of vulgar. Have not heard any of the Hank’s stories. A couple of years back -Bernadette Peters wrote a childrens book that my DIL wanted to get. I went to her book singing in Seattle and got a copy, but I am not sure it was that great as a kid’s book and if Jimmy Fallon can do a couple of kid’s works it might seem that almost anyone could. Jimmy was also on NPR yesterday – hawking his new kid’s book. I like Jimmy Fallon.

    • I don’t know much about Jimmy Fallon but I do know that the urge to write children’s books seems nearly omnipresent, and celebrities can indulge that urge much more easily, because their name alone will sell at least enough copies to ensure a contract with a skilled editor to clean up what they start out writing. Not that even the best writers don’t need good editors. The original version of To Kill a Mockingbird that came out a few years ago (under the title Go Set a Watchman) was all the proof of that I needed. People who have read my unpublished novel have asked me why I don’t self-publish. I don’t want to do that because a good editor can make the difference between a really good book and one that ends up as mediocre or even embarrassing. It’s getting to the editor that’s hard. It’s a catch-22; most publishers can’t afford to take a chance on an unknown author, so being known — even for something totally unrelated to writing — can sometimes get one’s foot in the door.

  12. Mike

    The movie “Gravity,” space thriller, written by ?- can’t remember, but heard his interview where he wrote his book on line in serial segments, for his friends, for free. So he did it for his friends and they wanted to read it on Kindle so Amazon bought it and the rest is history. He was just writing a story for his friends. Something to consider. But don’t they say it is really the 3rd or 4th book that really gets good? Not that I would know.
    Go set a watchman is not that great? Yes a good editor can make all the difference I am sure.

    • I think Go Set a Watchman is worth reading, especially for die-hard fans of TKAM, but there is absolutely no question that the revised version we all know and love was much better. I don’t want to put any spoilers here but suffice it to say that the original version had some less-than-appealing details that were arguably more realistic than the one that ended up getting published. But there also was a lot of stuff that just distracted from the story, and my biggest beef is that the character who inspired the title of the classic, Boo Radley, was not even in the original story at all. 😦 😦 😦 However, in Go Set a Watchman, there was one scene between Scout and Calpurnia that was devastating and rang so true…that scene alone made it worth reading the book. I think it should have ended up in the final version.

  13. Mike

    OK I will put this on my list and BTY the book ” Forrest Gump” is quite different from the movie and also in terms of racial tones- which was a shock.

    • Mike, I didn’t like the movie at all– even though Gary Sinise was in it and I really like him. That movie represents every tired and mostly untrue cliche about what is is REALLY like to live with a mental disability. I guess I could say that it was “offensive cultural appropriation.” 😀 But I won’t get started. Suffice it to say that I have no interest in reading the book; the movie was way more than enough for me. I hope the book was at least better than the movie, but there are so many others I’d rather read that I know I won’t ever get to that one.

  14. Mike

    YOu have a more correct perspective I am sure. Have you considered writing a memoir to correct some of these cultural misconceptions- which are many.?
    I am guiltiy as charged. Remind me tell a little anecdote about a sister inlaw who is deaf and what occurred one time in a parking lot.
    I find I really have to be more selective now on the readking lists.

    • Oddly enough, my novel is sort of an attempt at that, despite the fact that it takes place about 2000 years ago. Yes, you’ll have to tell me sometime about your sister in law. Almost all of us have said the wrong thing many times, without thinking about it.

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