Last night I learned I would have to leave vacation with my family because my father, who I was just with for almost three weeks, was back in the hospital. Worry and disappointment mounted in equal measure. What is happening to my admittedly very old, but always sharp and robust father? This slow decline is so not what I would wish for him. Why must he suffer? And more selfishly, why does this latest bout of suffering have to happen during this 10-day window that, as a family, we had tried so hard to protect? The last two or three years have been filled with family crises. And, between those crises and our work, our boys have gotten used to one or the other of us almost always being on the road. And vacations, something we have always held sacred as a family, have gone by the wayside. This summer we were reclaiming them…
As these thoughts were roiling, the sentiments found in the New Testament and repeated in various ways throughout the Catholic and Anglican liturgies came to mind, spontaneously combatting my lesser angels: It is right and a good and joyful thing always and everywhere to give thanks and praise. Always and everywhere? Even right now when I have to leave this place I’ve been dying to get to? “It is indeed right, our duty and our joy, always everywhere to give thanks.” Well then…no escaping that very clear direction. I made my plane reservation and we went out for a last sunset hike as a foursome. The climb was heavenly. An afternoon rain meant the earth was fresh, the Sedona colors magical, and every step led us to an enchantment-filled view. As I climbed, I found myself repeating, “Always and everywhere it is a good and joyful thing to give thanks.” This morning, I left the three of them to continue the trip and I came home to be with my dad.
Giving thanks is harder tonight as I sit by myself in my parents’ house. It is lonely. It is sticky and humid outside and there are mosquitoes. The pictures and memorabilia that I started sorting during my last visit are still here, beckoning like a disorganized lament. Thinking of all that will transpire this week, all that will need to be figured out and accomplished, makes me want to crawl under a rock.
Yet, those words from Thessalonians keep surfacing, “In all things, give thanks.” In other traditions, this might be called a mantra. Cognitive-behavioral therapists might even define this repeated sentence as a thought stopping mechanism, a means for combatting the negative thoughts that feed anxiety and depression. For me, I think they have become a habit of mind, something that comes to me when I am facing something difficult that I know I cannot avoid. Like the little engine that could, that said, “I think I can. I think I can” over and over, this liturgical practice drives out the frustration and, truthfully, resentment that threatens the tenderness that comes from caring for others and putting our own needs and wants on a back burner. And as I do, all that I am thankful for begins to surface and be named:
- A father to care for who has loved me so well all my life.
- A husband that supports me in doing all that I do for my dad.
- The high school friend I’ll see tomorrow night for dinner.
- A flexible summer work schedule.
- Morning walks around my childhood neighborhood.
- My father’s friends who remain so committed to him as he declines.
- The professionals who are helping me figure all of this out.
- The ministers that seem to show up out of nowhere when they are most needed.
- The encouraging texts from friends far away.
- The memories that live in that disorganized pile of pictures.
And finally for the practice over a lifetime that imbedded these words deep in my mind and heart so that I could call them up when they are most needed. Indeed, always and everywhere it is right, our duty and our joy, to give thanks.