Thanks. Giving.

Yesterday, I stopped at Subway to pick up a sandwich for my daughter. In line behind me stood a young policeman. Something about him reminded me of my grandson Jacob, and I immediately knew I wanted to pay for his meal. He protested when I told the cashier to add his total to mine, until I handed him one of the random acts of kindness cards I carry in my purse. “In honor of my grandson,” I insisted. Reading the card, his eyes softened. He nodded, thanking me.

I cried all the way home.

Why am I crying? I initially wondered. The goodwill gesture was a simple one. Not terribly expensive or elaborate. I usually felt lifted through performing random acts of kindness in memory of our sweet boy. Why was I crying?

random act of kindness

Then it hit me.

“Happy Thanksgiving,” the young man had called after me as I turned around to leave. Happy Thanksgiving. 

I was going to be alone on the holiday. Several of my children were scheduled to work, another lives in CA. Since I have to go into work this weekend, we’d all agreed we’d wait to get together in December when Emily visits Iowa with my grandbaby Tommy.

But I wasn’t crying because I was going to be alone.

The tears came because I can’t fix the holidays and make them the way they used to be. Everything is different since David died in 2012 and Jacob the year after. Holidays aren’t the same. I can’t give my children back their dad or repair the deep wound of child loss my daughter and son-in-law live with daily. To make matters worse, I moved away from the two-story home that served as a gathering place to a tiny house an hour or more away from children and grandchildren. Gatherings aren’t as easy or convenient. I can’t make holidays what they were. I can’t fix what was irrevocably broken by loss.

With the unexpected day off alone, I decided to go through letters my mother had written to me, organizing them into binders like I’d done with the letters she’d written to my grandmother. It was the best thing I could have done.

Nov 7 1978 letter

Mom didn’t have any plans for Thanksgiving 1978? I’d always imagined my mother making a big deal out of Thanksgiving, memories of a white tablecloth, fine china, and candles on the table. I can’t recall whether any of that happened on Thanksgiving 1978, or if there was turkey served, or a duck or goose my father had raised. What I can say with some certainty is that I came home from my first semester at college to a family that loved me. And, evidently, my dad didn’t care whether any plans were made. He’d reassured Mom, told her not to worry about it.

Thanksgiving isn’t about the food, the fancy china, tablecloths and candles. It’s about family, and I have family to be thankful for, whether I see them today or not.

Then there is this letter, written in November 1990:

Nov. 27 1990 letter

More than five years after Dad’s death in May 1986, my mom was keenly feeling his absence. Much like we keenly feel the absence of David and Jacob.

What can I do about that?

It’s true I cannot bring them back. Cannot make everything the same. But there is something I am determined to do. I can be a better person because of them. I can honor them through my actions. Live a life they would be proud of. Do good in their name. Give a stranger a sandwich.

Give thanks for having had them in my life.

 

 

Childhood Calling

In Called to Be Creative, to be released by Familius Publishing September 1, 2020, I encourage readers to look back to their childhood interests to discover where their natural talents lie. (italicized sections taken from book)

“Whether it was cooking, gardening, spending time with animals, sketching, writing, empathetic listening, or music, there was something you were drawn to as a child, an activity that brought you joy, that you can reignite now, as an adult.” 

I revisited my childhood this past week as I organized letters my mother had written to my grandmother in the 60’s and 70’s.

moms letter

I skimmed through more than 200 of Mom’s letters in two days, observing at one point as I read, that it was her voice in my head. What a treasure her words are now, providing a glimpse into the heart of a mother who believed every one of her ten children was endowed with certain gifts, talents she observed and recorded in letters to her mother.

Weekly Reader

I have no copy of the poem or Weekly Reader letter, nor can I remember ever seeing the published version, though I have a vague memory of an elementary teacher reading it to the entire class.

oratory

I did know what I “liked to do” back then; writing, drawing, and public speaking, but I never imagined those endeavors making any money. Certainly none of them constituted a “career” of any sort. Instead, when I began attending classes at the University of Northern Iowa, it was with the intention of becoming a teacher. Quickly disillusioned with that idea, I ended up graduating with a B.A. in Psychology, enjoying opportunities to conduct research and write papers. I may have been one of few students who actually loved essay tests. Nine credits shy of a Masters in Family Services, I left college to serve my own growing family, taking finals in the hospital bed after giving birth to my fourth. For the next thirty years, I struggled to maintain a semblance of creative self through freelance writing. As for the public speaking, as an isolated homeschooling mother of eight, weeks could pass when the only adults I spoke to outside of my husband were the butcher at the grocery store and our mailman. I rapidly lost the ability to string two coherent sentences together, which makes it all the more remarkable that I now take great pleasure in public speaking. I never feel more alive than when I am speaking in front of a room full of people.

“It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to predict that the little girl who spent hours reading and scribbling out stories might someday become a writer herself. Nor is it difficult to imagine the high schooler who won awards at speech contests someday becoming a public speaker. Yet I didn’t return to those roots of elocution for nearly forty years.”

Forty years is a long time to abandon a talent even my father had recognized when he’d admonished me to “use your gift for good, not evil,” and yet the fact that it took forty years to return to it should encourage my readers. It is never too late.

“Imagine the possibilities; a mostly stay-at-home, isolated mother of eight who could barely string two sentences together to communicate with the butcher and mailman, now speaking in front of crowds, designing power-points, and conducting workshops. After thirty years of writing articles and essays, that same woman somehow manages to sign six book contracts in the space of six years. If this woman’s broken self, laid bare by grief, could learn to reach out to others and discover a job in midlife that fulfills all her passions, incorporating everything that her soul has been seeking, where might your search for meaning and purpose lead?” 

Isn’t it time to find out?