The table is piled high with abundance. My brother Kyle makes a delicious sausage spiked stuffing. Plenty of thyme and sage. Mom is busy with the turkey, first soaking in brine and then basting. A soft melody is being picked out on piano keys two rooms away. Daniel, my middle brother, transports me back to high school with that sound. Nights when we would stay up late with him composing on piano or guitar, me sitting nearby with a journal or sketch pad. In the background of this domestic landscape is my dad. He’s the rock, the dependable one that grounds the other four of us who can spin and spin with energy that multiplies with each passing hour. I may look and laugh like my father, but the intensity that my brothers and I share is definitely inherited from our mother.
There were many, many years when the scene was different, when Thanksgiving was celebrated at my maternal grandparents’ home. As the oldest grandchild (of fifteen) my job was to arrive early to the festivities to prepare. With an apron tied twice around my waist, I’d stand on a step stool to reach the soapy sink where we’d polish silver serving utensils that would be making their annual appearance. When that was done, I would climb the stairs to my grandmother’s art studio for the annual illustrating of place cards for each setting, which some years numbered thirty. I would make sure the creamers had a little dot of butter on the lip to prevent spills. Eventually the quiet morning would break and the families would descend for an afternoon of young cousins underfoot. The table held five kinds of pies from five aunts who might later go for a walk around the neighborhood to burn off the calories from those pies.
Now we are grown and many of the cousins have their own families. The meal is eaten at a dozen smaller tables in different places. The rhythm of the holiday has changed and continues to change. New faces appear at the tables. Some stay and some go. This week, we will be a small group around the table at my parents. It is one of those in between years when we are fewer.
As I pack a small bag for the trip to Upstate NY, I am reminded of this Wendell Berry poem:
Even in a country you know by heart
it’s hard to go the same way twice.
The life of the going changes.
The chances change and make a new way.
Any tree or stone or bird
can be the bud of a new direction. The
natural correction is to make intent
of accident. To get back before dark
is the art of going.
(Traveling at Home, from A Part, 1980)
I won’t speak for the rest of my family, but I think that I am trying to make intent of accident. The changes that have occurred between this Thanksgiving and the last, and between that one and the one before, those are the moments that have broken me and then bound me back together. I am counting moments by these meals the way that others measure time with birthdays or your height with little hatches on the closet door. It is around the table that I can see mirrored back at us the choices we have made and how, “The chances change and make a new way.”
I am also reminded that we are living these moments in the context of grace and gift. In the second reading for Thanksgiving mass, we hear the Apostle Paul speaking words of greeting and encouragement to the church at Corinth:
I give thanks to my God always on your account
for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus,
that in him you were enriched in every way,
with all discourse and all knowledge,
as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you,
so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift
as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He will keep you firm to the end,
irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God is faithful,
and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Praying that God’s faithfulness and affirming Spirit is present at my table and yours this Thanksgiving.
Bethany J. Welch is the Executive Director of Providence Center, a faith-based neighborhood center that provides education and enrichment opportunities in the Kensington community of North Philadelphia. She previously wrote “Radical Hospitality” for the centerforfaithjustice blog.