Thanksgiving 1958: It was grand. The house smelled like real butter – we were a margarine family the rest of the year – and the whole family was together. Usually it was just my folks, my sister Bobbie, and me, but this day David and Margaret, who were old enough to be living on their own, were home too. That meant fun, and love, and raucous laughter. Especially because of Margaret.
Margaret was an event.
At that point, I was the only person smaller than she was. Margaret didn’t top out anywhere near 5 feet, due to polio as much as parentage. All I knew was that she was completely packed full of joy and hilarity, and she could detonate at any time. Bobbie and I had dibs on the wishbone from the turkey, but with everyone around one table, we couldn’t come up with anything else to wish for.
I’m all grown up now, sort of. Real butter is bubbling in the pan. My husband is mincing garlic for it, and I’m pouting like a child.
“I wish I could find the discipline to practice piano every day like I did when I was taking lessons,” I whine, as though that were an impossible thing. “I need a routine.”
“Tell you what,” Dave says, flipping the butter and garlic in a neat parabola. “Why don’t you sit down to play every night while I’m cooking your dinner?”
Two thoughts spring to mind. One, that would totally work. Two, I might be the most fortunate person in the world. An alliance developed between Schumann and garlic frying in butter. It is the smell and soundtrack of rapture. It’s no great thing that I feel gratitude a dozen times a day. It would disgrace me if I didn’t.
Grace has billowed over me my whole life, none of it earned. It’s not that I don’t deserve it. It’s that no one ever does – that’s not how it works.
I should be able to learn the entire Schumann canon in the leisure given to me by a respectable pension from the United States Postal Service. There are those who would say that I earned that time with my 32 years in a postal uniform. In a small, unimportant way, I did. But the world is full of people who have worked harder and done greater things who don’t enjoy the particular freedom I do. I have been blessed.
My sister Margaret, though, lived with daily challenges and struggled to remain hopeful. She knew an abundance of hardship and friendship, never failing to find the flecks of gold in her pan of black sand.
She brimmed with gratitude! She was on fire with it. Gratitude is not fickle. It’s as wide as the world and as deep as we make it.
Margaret’s signature phrase always made us laugh: “This changed my life!” she’d exult, and she might have been referring to a jar opener, a portable carrier for her oxygen tank, or a potato salad. Oh, we lined up 10 deep to help change her life, for the same reason flowers track the sun. That’s how much shine she had.
But that’s the thing about shine. It doesn’t stay within its source; it gives itself away. Somehow, Margaret’s grace amplified our own. We yearned to be as wonderful as she already thought we were: She allowed us to bloom into our best selves. How about that? It turns out gratitude is a collaboration.
There’s not a Thanksgiving Day that goes by that we aren’t grateful for the gift of Margaret’s memory. After all, it’s as good a day as any to give thanks. And that means – Margaret would be the first to point out – every other day is good for that, too.
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