“What time will the bus get here?”
For a moment, Heather didn’t know what to say.
Missy, our developmentally disabled ward, spends five mornings a week waiting for her “bus,” the van that takes her to her day program. She’s watched eagerly, fumed impatiently, even rearranged the contents of her lunch box a dozen times to pass the minutes.
But the minutes – that was the trick. In three and a half years of living with Missy, we had never heard her refer directly to “time.”
A simple time. Small in moments. But not in meaning.
Faced with that, what else can you do but say “thank you?”
And note the time, of course.
When you think about it, Thanksgiving is an odd sort of holiday.
Most holidays, aside from deliberately silly ones such as Talk Like a Pirate Day, commemorate something grand or important. They mark the birth of religions, or the founding of nations, or the labors of parents, workers, and soldiers. They underline famous names and sometimes infamous ones. (Right, Mr. Fawkes?)
And then there’s the fourth Thursday of November.
The first Thanksgiving — the one mythologized with construction-paper hats across the country, anyway — didn’t mark the arrival of the Pilgrims into a new land or the first meeting between natives and newcomers. It celebrated simple survival. Not so simple at that, either. Half of the original Plymouth colonists died in the first year, many in the first three months.
After a start like that, a good crop and helpful neighbors were things to be thankful for, indeed. Mind you, I won’t put on rose-colored glasses; I think we all know how quickly those neighborly relations turned sour. But I won’t ignore the moment, either.
And if the moment then is foggy and half-legend, the moment now is more like Missy’s grasp of time: simple in its essence, profound in its implications. An entire day, built around the words “thank you.”
That’s something we don’t always do so well, anymore.
Oh, we know the words. We learned them all as children. But “please” has become an intensifier for the resigned and the upset(“Will you please stop feeding your peas to the dog?”), while “you’re welcome” has vanished almost entirely in the wake of “no problem.” And “thank you?” That’s something we toss off over the shoulder, a social nicety less about gratitude and more about saying “OK, you did it, that’s great, can we go?”
Thanksgiving makes us take that at a slower pace. It gives us time to think about those two words and what we mean by them – well, in between the Lions and the Cowboys games, anyway.
It’s about as simple as you get. And maybe that’s why it’s slowly fading out.
It’s not a fair contest, really. Christmas has the glamour and the music and the gifts. Halloween has wild costumes and abundant chocolate. The most elaborate thing that Thanksgiving has is the food, and that’s easily subsumed by its tinsel-wrapped neighbor.
And so a time for family and gratitude becomes Black Friday Eve.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve worked on Thanksgiving myself. I know the attitude matters more than the day it’s celebrated on.
But it’s easy to lose the attitude, easy to get caught up in the stress and strain of the moment. Easy to just be too tired, to not have time.
Simple things break easily.
But it doesn’t take much to make the fragile powerful. It doesn’t need turkey or stuffing or a big dining table. All it needs is a few minutes to see the world instead of just passing through it. We’ll see soon enough how much we owe to how many.
And maybe we can even hope for new gratitudes to come.
Soon, Missy will watch the window again as the minutes roll by. Her minutes.
It’s only one moment. But it adds to so many that have made this year so special. And like the facets of a crystal, all these small, brief moments add up to something beautiful.
That can’t be ignored. And it won’t be.
Take the time. Always. A simple thought, for a small moment.