Growing up, my family sat around the Thanksgiving table, bowed our heads and said grace:
Bless us Oh Lord
and these thy gifts …
Which we are about to receive
through thy bounty …
Through Christ, Our Lord
We never rushed through it to get to the meat. No one ever really seemed to pay attention, either.
Unless my uncle was visiting.
On those occasions, he would have the honor of leading the prayer, and he would lead as if the whole thing were a single, meandering word set apart by taking the lord's name in vein:
BlessUsOLordandthesethygiftswhichweareabouttoreceivethroughthybountythrough JESUS! CHRIST! ourlordAmen. Someone, gimme the bird!
I loved my uncle. Bespectacled and bearded, he was a hippy and a mystery. Above all, he had swagger.
And boy, did he have stories. The way he told them, you couldn't help but to believe.
He had spent most of his 20s playing golf pros for cash until the greens were white with snow, and then he'd hustle pool for the rest of the winter.
At least that's how he claimed to have made his living up until he graduated college and began teaching juvenile delinquents how to type.
He had just the right amount of nonchalance.
Everything about him was irreverent.
The conversation over dinner was always preposterous. She'd just listen as he cracked wise. He'd laugh and drink milk. Tell us sweets were poison, and that he never ate them … and then polish off two huge pieces of Mom's special cheesecake.
And of course, my devout and reverent mother, loved him fiercely.
It seems odd, somehow, that we didn't make more of the ceremony of those occasions. The saying of grace.
It may have been a jumble of words to us, but to her the words had profound meaning.
My mother just closed her eyes, determinedly oblivious to those among us who would put all the emphasis in the wrong places or snitch bites from our quickly cooling plates.
I don't remember any other tradition. We never went around the table to talk about that for which we were thankful.
Being thankful, was something you kept to yourself. Like a superstition. Wouldn't want to jinx it.
Is it strange to wake up the day after Thanksgiving and realize you and the nine or 10 guests who sat across a table from one another never once shared in conversation the things for which we are thankful?
Is it horrible that we never took the time to reflect on what it was that got us to this place?
Good or bad?
For a moment I felt a twinge of guilt ... as if the failure to verbally examine gratitude made me as callous as if I'd spent the last Thursday in November greedily shopping for things I would never be thankful for.
It didn't last long. I know what I am grateful for and for whom, and trying to put those thoughts into words doesn't give them any more weight.
I am grateful for everyone who has ever made me laugh ...
or smile ...
or feel like a part of something more than just myself.
And yet, perhaps more surprisingly, I'm just as grateful for everyone who has ever made me irritated or anxious or feel at loose ends. For all the things that have frightened me. Saddened me. Made me think about the world and all the parts of it I can't control.
As I sit there, looking at my family, I feel thankful that we have this complicated history. I am thankful for unspoken acceptance.
And I know if I cleared my throat to make a speech about gratitude, it would seem more awkward than silence.