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Giving Thanks for the Present

A Thanksgiving Day visit reveals the only gift we ever really have: the magical present.

Aging hand on cane
"What's left when memory is gone? And your identity, Mrs. Smith?" -- Thornton Wilder, Our Town

As we approach a very different Thanksgiving this year, physically separated to protect those we love, I look back at last year's bounty. At once both reduced and concentrated even further. Dear God, may we learn to hold, even for a moment, the beauty of the simple ordinary.


November 2019

Yesterday morning in the crisp late autumn air, my family loaded up the car, warm coffee in hand and began our Thanksgiving. We hadn’t been able to visit Papa, my father-in law, for a couple weeks now since he moved into his new home, a memory care home. Last I saw him, he was in a hospital bed. Although weakened and unable to walk, he seemed a little tired, a little confused, but ultimately still recognized us. Now as our footsteps crunched against the crust of the morning snow, I knew things would be different. 

Dementia is a mystery in its good days and bad. The unpredictable, the hope of a moment of recognition, a glimmer of something in the eyes of a loved one pull on our hearts despite the grief. 

The frosty door slid open to reveal Papa sitting at his chair, a closed newspaper before him. I saw him, instinctively smiled, but was met with no glimmer. Not today. 

We sat. 

My girls read the cards they made, and we shared stories of the Thanksgiving snow, the backyard sledding, the school cultural day where my girls explained how Papa’s father, age two, stubbornly and independently refused a hand as he walked down the ship’s plank with his family to begin his new life in America. 

Fierce indepence. 

“You’re capable,” Papa would always say. This legacy now stings. 

I look into blank eyes. 

“You’re capable,” Papa would always say. This legacy now stings. I look into blank eyes. 

What's left when memory is gone

We ask about breakfast, about the day ahead.

My husband reaches out a hand, and then standing, places it on Papa’s head. Papa’s eye shift, then a smile. 

My mind flashes, “What is left when memory is gone?”-- the biting question of Thornton’s Wilder’s Our Town attacks. Wilder explains the distancing:  

“Gradually, Gradually they lose hold of the earth

And the ambitions they had… 

And the pleasures they had...

And the things they suffered…

And the people they loved…

They get weaned away…” 

My husband, sad eyes, looks down at his hero, lovingly smoothing his father’s hair. A moment of love and connection. Viceral. Felt. Immediate. 

Oh, how often we have misunderstood, misunderstood love. The history and past and all the memories are not how we communicate love. Love is a simple, immediate action of the moment. 

The history and past and all the memories are not how we communicate love. Love is a simple, immediate action of the moment. 

Perhaps this Thanksgiving, this is the lesson we carry in our sadness back to the car for the long drive ahead. 

I look out the window; the rolling hills covered in snow pass by so quickly. Stuck in my head, I think, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  


Turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes, and my mom’s pumpkin pie with the last of the Festal pumpkin. We’ll talk about how our last weeks were, memories of that past Thanksgiving of an emergency frozen pizza and boxed cookies, and plans for the holiday season ahead.   

In our world the magical present is hard to pin down. 

I look back out the window, and touch my husband’s hand. 

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