Of Gratitude and Grace
Thanksgiving is a pretty low key holiday in my family. It gets a bit mashed-up with my birthday, which often falls on a busy pre-vacation day and therefore gets postponed in celebration.
On my birthday there's always a bit of obligatory remembrance of the fact that my birth was totally insane
. I was born three months early, and in the late 70s, even more than now, that was not normal. Of course, 3 months is too early for the baby to turn, and I was a breech footling. It involved a fall on the ice, a huge blizzard, hysterical nurses running through hallways, and nervous interns. When the moment of truth came, the hospital didn't even bother calling my dad, so he never got a chance to help with the decision making process or talk to his wife before she went under. Instead they put all the pressure on my mother, who was feeling a considerable amount of pain and distress. They advised this anxious woman that she was better off delivering her baby normally--almost certainly causing said baby to die--rather than risking surgery. Well, if ever a mother pulled double duty during labor, it was mine--she held her ground and insisted that they do a C-section so as not to crush my skull. My mother exerted her fierce will until they relented and set her up for surgery, nervously waiting for her obstetrician to make it across town through the 17 inches of snow. And, guess what? Everything worked out fine. My dad showed up in the morning to check up on his wife, and found he had another kid, significantly ahead of schedule. I made it home to my sister (who had requested me) by Christmas, chubbier than full-term babies born the same day, with no illin' at all. What could have been an awful day instead turned into a rather funny story to be reminisced over every year. You should hear my mother imitate the hysterical nurse.
Last fall, before the election, I picked up a copy of John Edwards's Four Trials
. But there was just too much else to read. My mother, however, did read it, and she told me I should read the second trial, that the story was horribly similar yet dissimilar to ours. Since my birthday last year followed disappointing defeat, I was too depressed to read Edwards's book. But this year my birthday reminded me of Edwards, and today I picked it up and read the story of Peggy and Jeff O'Shea. The same year I was born, the same year John Edwards's oldest son Wade was born, Peggy O'Shea was warned--weeks ahead of time--that her child had not turned and might be delivered by C-section. But everything else was fine, and there was plenty of time to prepare for a C-section on a full-term baby on a clear Carolina day. Yet "Dr. D." still did a breech extraction. His teenage patients trustingly deferred to his judgement, unaware of the potential consequences. Their daughter Jennifer almost died at birth, and was then diagnosed with cerebral palsy. I often say, when encountering sad circumstances, "There, but for the grace of God, go I," but this one is a little too close to home.
You don't have to believe in the grace of God to be grateful for the good things life tosses you--whether you see it as coming to you gracefully or by lottery. Nor do you have to feel that it indicates anything good about you or anything bad about someone else to be grateful for what you have that others lack. It is repulsive to gloat. But graceful gratitude is ground in a foundation of humility. All these good things are not really mine, I just happen to be holding them. Let me make the most of them.
We are all in unique positions in life--uniquely blessed and uniquely cursed. The balance is hard to measure, and perhaps unnecessary to calculate. On some other day we can acknowledge our unique combinations of misery and misfortune. Wade Edwards, just a few months older than me, was by all accounts a charming, kind, interesting young man, seemingly cast by destiny to be a beloved scion in an accomplished, prosperous family. When we were both around the same age, perhaps just before I did the same thing in the High Sierras, he went on an Outward Bound course in Colorado, and wrote in his journal of his gratitude to his family, much as I did. And then in the spring as I got ready for college, he died in a car accident.
Edwards concludes his memoir, "I have learned two great lessons-that there will always be heartache and struggle, and that people of strong will can make a difference. One is a sad lesson; the other is inspiring. I choose to be inspired.
" It's hard to contemplate contemporary lives that have diverged so wildly from our parallel. It's hard to know what to do with such raw gratitude. But it's good to have a day for it.
Thanks for food, family, & friends, both new and old. I'm also thankful for all my wonderful readers. You give these contemplations and musings a home in your mind, however briefly, and for that I am very grateful.