Just before Thanksgiving, a friend bemoaned an attack of “stomach flu.” Oooooo Gives me the eebeegeebees just thinking about it, especially at holiday time. Another friend, trying to keep things in perspective, said, “Hey–I’m about a stomach flu or two away from my ideal weight.” Funny. Sort of. I’d rather do without kettle chips as a weight-reduction strategy than have the dreaded SF. Still another perspective is how feeling ill results in gratitude for the simple gift of health. By “simple” (simple has many definitions, I learned today) I mean “unrestricted or without condition.” Our health is so easy to take for granted until something acute arrives and life as we know it is under siege as we engage in some sort of biological warfare with the enemy that broke through the gate.
The photo this week is of my dog, Katie. She is a garden companion for sure and a real gift in my life. She is a reluctant model, too, so I’m happy she let me snap a few of her on one of our last golden afternoons. She loves autumn time especially–all the smells among the fallen leaves–dog paradise. I offer an apology to all neighbors for any of Katie’s “leave-behinds” I could not find in the roadside leaves while on the walk. Rescued from Kentucky, Katie survived two shelters before arriving in Philadelphia where she was brought to her forever home. Katie’s love is a simple gift–one for which I am most grateful because she offers it to me so freely, with total trust. A simple gift but not a small one. I value this so much because she came in with a load of trauma (she has a large burn scar on her back), plus fear and anxiety most likely caused by human interaction prior to adoption. When she is with me she is able to find peace. I take huge delight in watching her in the garden: with her perimeter search when she is first outdoors; with how she points her nose up to catch the scents of who has been ’round; then for her stance when she takes notice of something that begs her undivided attention. Best of all, I love to see her in the golden afternoon, the sun on her as she sits to keep me company when I’m there, squinting in the bright light, feeling the warm sun. We are kindred spirits this way. A simple gift, and beautiful.
The simple gift of time spent with family. I know we have family around us all year, yet at holiday time there are so many celebrations, our current ones join with those of our memories, often including special foods that are part of our heritage. For us, my children would mutiny–or be at least sorely sad– if I didn’t bake the Christmas cookies they had all their lives–several that I grew up enjoying. They are special, too because I make these recipes only at Christmastime. Gabi says she likes the frosted sugar cookies best; Nick likes those made with melted Snickers candy bars; Blake likes the Bird’s Nest cookies filled with raspberry jelly and when he’s around, they disappear very quickly. Gabi likes these second best so she will have words for Blake if he eats more than she thinks he ought. The two of them will eat cookies together late at night once Blake arrives–he lives away. I love that they do this over my cookies. My other son, Nick, lives away, too and hasn’t had Christmas with us for a few years now, so I mail cookies to him in hopes that they will provide for him family connection. The physical recipes themselves are frail; my mother cut them from magazines close to fifty years ago. Each year when I bring them out at baking time, I consider re-writing them in order that they not fall apart– but I haven’t. I think this is because part of the joy for me is in seeing the slightly-browned slips and knowing it was something my mother touched and shared just as love–touched, shared.
Such a simple gift, really, cookies– with powerful happy included.
Finally, the simple gift of lights and things that shine. I wrote a bit about this last week, and today I’m looking at our Christmas tree, strung with lights, illuminating the old mercury glass beads that were my grandmother’s. I loved these so as a child she gave them to me when I first had trees of my own. Many beads are missing, the cotton thread exposed along the string, and some of the beads are partially melted from the hot tree lights of long past. Now light sparkles on the beads, a simple gift of my grandmother whose generosity and generosity of spirit I think of all the time. It’s never about what we lose; it’s always about what we get to keep.
One of my favorite writers, John Barth, wrote this of heritage: “How can I be both vessel and contents?” I believe it is so we can carry and then share the best and simple gifts.