Becoming an Oak Leaf

Dry, curled oak leaves, 8-10 to 11-95
Oak leaves – Drawing by Mason Hayek
Thanksgiving Day[1]
-Lydia Maria Child (1802-1880)
 Over the river, and through the wood,
To grandfather’s house we go;
The horse knows the way
To carry the sleigh
Through the white and drifted snow.
 Over the river, and through the wood—
Oh, how the wind does blow!
It stings the toes
And bites the nose
As over the ground we go.
 Over the river, and through the wood,
To have a first-rate play.
Hear the bells ring
“Ting-a-ling-ding,”
Hurrah for Thanksgiving Day!
 Over the river, and through the wood
Trot fast, my dapple-gray!
Spring over the ground,
Like a hunting-hound!
For this is Thanksgiving Day.
 Over the river, and through the wood,
And straight through the barn-yard gate.
We seem to go
Extremely slow,—
It is so hard to wait!
 Over the river and through the wood—
Now grandmother’s cap I spy!
Hurrah for the fun!
Is the pudding done?
Hurrah for the pumpkin-pie!

A dear, dear friend—almost a sister—and I celebrated our Thanksgiving at The Gables, a restaurant near famous Longwood Gardens, in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.  The holiday buffet was pleasing, the waiter entertaining and attentive, and the comfortably crowded setting appealing.  We missed our dear ones who are on the other side, missed them intensely, and also reveled in the warmth of each other’s company and a shared tradition just created.  After eating, we drove for an hour or more in the bright November afternoon, along country roads lined with already-winter trees.

To some extent we are like the brown oak leaves continuing to hold firmly to their branches while the branches of other species are now bare.  We oak leaves are transformed from what we were but are as much a part of the vibrant present and eternal scene as the cloudless sky, the fierce, magnificent sun shining in our eyes as we drive west, the coven of buzzards we see standing together by the side of a Chester County road, the small V of geese heading somewhere in the chilly but welcoming November air.  We are as much a part of it all as are the multigenerational families gathering in homes for turkey and stuffing.

Another deeply dear friend has kindly included me in her family’s holiday gatherings in recent years.  But with her mother’s passing this fall, the center for that family’s gatherings has broken into smaller venues, settings for blood-and-marriage-only participants.  I am grateful to have been included as an almost member of this family.  I cherish their generosity and kindness, especially the warmth of my sweet friend and her husband, also loved.  They are not the reason I always felt a little outside the gathered circle, no matter its members’ friendliness and warmth.  I felt a little outside the circle because I was this from fact, not from any deficiency in my friend.

I will continue from time to time to step into others’ lives with pleasure and gratitude.  Even yesterday I was with the treasured couple just mentioned while they and their son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughters sorted through Christmas decorations brought down from the attic.  And for next month, I have accepted the kind invitation of another friend to attend her family’s traditional Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes.  But in any such cases, I am the outsider invited in.  And I have always craved with all my being to be one of those at home within our circle—rather than privileged sometimes to step across a barrier into theirs.  I crave to be part of the family, my family, a permanent resident rather than a guest.

Mother, Daddy, and I were, to me, the essence of a family who loved each other.  And so I am profoundly blessed to have known such love and belonging.  I am vastly blessed, too, that any of my friends should find me pleasant enough to join their families on special days.  And my blessings extend infinitely.  As my sister-friend and I talked, ate, and gazed at the festive restaurant and our fellow diners, we thought not only of the encircling pleasure of the moment, not only of our loved ones in the air around us, but also of the millions and millions with no meal to sustain them, no peace, no security, no family or close-as-family friends.

But just considering me for the moment, in my life of relative affluence and ease, I now recognize the importance of creating new traditions, new ways of being whole, in spite of the tornadoes of loss and change—in spite of being an oak leaf left on the tree after so much beauty has drifted away.  As my beloved friend and I shared Thanksgiving, we were not visiting others’ lives; we were living our own.

And so I will decorate a Christmas tree this year.  I have not had the courage to do so since losing my mother from this life, and after losing Daddy from our lives, Mother and I only had a tree on our last Christmas together.  I should no more let myself live entirely through Christmases past than try to live entirely through the lives of friends who continue to be part of physically present families.

With my dearest friends of the heart and on my own, I will do my best to find and to create meaningful traditions and ways of being, including reaching out to others, as long as my leaf still clings to the tree.

[1] https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/thanksgiving-day.

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