Thanks for everything | Chuck's World
Last November, our entire household flew to Texas for my father-in-law’s funeral, creating a vacuum that can only be filled by Mother Nature.
That is, it’s extremely rare for all of us to leave town at the same time. Extremely.
In the past 20 years, in fact, I can only think of three times it’s happened, although I could be missing one. Still, we tend to bind to our home, one or two of us remaining behind for all sorts of reasons.
I just thought of a fourth time. But I stand by the phenomenon. This house is almost never empty.
So it felt strange, last year, to leave it alone for a couple of days, and I worried about what I needed to do.
I informed the neighbors. I unplugged the unnecessary appliances. And I turned off the heat, just in case a stray corner of the drapes began to haunt my dreams while I was gone. That can happen.
I turned off the heat, you understand. In November. I didn’t just turn it down. It was off.
And, of course, our trip coincided with a little November cold snap in western Washington, getting down into the 20s and possibly teens, which was pretty balmy compared to the inside of our house when we returned, all thanks to me.
Let me toss out a fun question: How long do you think it might take to warm up a fairly roomy house, even a well-insulated one, after a couple of days of low temperatures outside and no temperatures inside? Just guess. I’ll wait.
Ha. Only one of you guessed correctly. Understandable. I was surprised, too.
It took a full 24 hours to feel comfortable, and that’s with a couple of space heaters augmenting the central heating. Live and learn, freezing during your education, and at the end of that road is gratitude for the forgotten things.
So in this Thanksgiving week, I first of all would like to express my gratitude for heat.
It’s pretty well established that after the age of 50, one’s tolerance for cold temperatures decreases roughly 2 degrees per year (I am making this up but you know it’s true), which means that by age 70 I will be setting the thermostat at 105 degrees, so I’m practicing being grateful.
And then there was a recent trip to Phoenix I made to attend a niece’s wedding. I gained another 35 degrees in ambient temperature just on the three-hour flight, and while I grew up in the desert southwest and know all about its dark side (i.e., summer), I found myself basking in gratitude and eyeing the hotel swimming pool in an unnatural way.
Along with a beautiful wedding, and the rare opportunity to socialize with much of my family, I had the chance to look up old friends. This is the city where I spent my teenage years, and I’m grateful that a few of the people I knew then I still know now.
So for the next 48 hours, I indulged my inner Proust, and dusted off the past.
Quantity informed quality: I got several very long and personal conversations out of this, just fun and enlightening and sweetness. Spend a few hours with people who remember you from 40 years ago and you might be surprised.
That’s the key, too. None of these visits were reunions in the sense that decades had passed; I’ve seen most of these people in the past few years.
But our meetings are rare enough that while we recognize each other on sight, ignoring the extra pounds and folds and lines and hair color and lack of hair and lenses and gaits that seem maybe less sprightly and more cautious, what I mostly see is the way they were.
I remember them when they were 15, or 18 or 20; I hold that in my heart, the image, and I have to assume they feel the same way. They mostly think of me, when they think of me, as the way I was.
And this makes me grateful, somehow. Knowing that my younger self is preserved, not in an album but in organic matter, in brain cells, in that mist of memory that we don’t understand but cherish.
I like that we’re conservators of each others’ pasts, and I like opening the safe deposit box from time to time, just to make sure I’m still there.
This is what I’ll be grateful for on Thanksgiving, then. Old friends who remain young.
The wonders of modern technology, which allow me to travel easily to places where 85 degrees and sunshine are unremarkable even in November, and which let me see daily pictures of my new grandson, right on my phone.
Oh, and the grandson. Much gratitude there, of course.
Also the Seahawks. I could go on.
It’s a tricky concept, gratitude. It can make us feel guilty, sometimes, understanding that others aren’t so fortunate. It can also beg an object, a higher power or the kindness of strangers to be grateful to, but I mostly see it as I do the feeling of relief.
It sweeps through my soul, reminding me to pay attention to the little things, and I need to pay attention.
It feels important, it feels like it needs its own holiday, and it feels most, I think, like walking into a warm room when it’s cold outside, knowing that it could be worse.