“Maybe it’s because they see life as a gift, not a privilege,” the British man seeking retirement in India said to the British woman seeking him when she asked him what he liked about India. He saw India as an overflowing gift of color, affection, activity, gratitude. She saw the country as a hell hole.
This scene takes place in The Exotic Marigold Hotel, a movie I saw multiple times to escape the heat of Kansas this summer. As the seasons tilt another direction, I think of the clear seeing and choice involved in seeing life as a gift, not a right, not a privilege, not a consumable. At Thanksgiving especially, I try to remind myself between the too-much-food hangover this morning (oh, last night, why so much pasta!), the hundred moving pieces in the house of what food needs to be prepared and what stuff needs to be put away, and my young adult or teenage kids, who are either pushing a vacuum or pushing themselves out of the path of their chores. Here we are, 36 minutes before the Big Meal, and I’ve tucked myself into my room to write this as my own way of stopping to behold the gift.
Birds lift and land on Cottonwood Mel outside my window. The dog races outside to splash himself in the pile of leaves Ken just unloaded in our yard from his mother’s yard. Somewhere in a room west of here, a phone rings, and someone says “Hello” repeatedly, and “Can you hear me? I can’t hear you.” The clouds thicken further west although as usual, rain is unlikely. Cedars wave their elderly fingers in the wind.
Closer to view, my feet, clad in a pair of shoes I love for their comfort and just sheer coolness (Keen Maryjanes), rest on the aging quilt my cousins (from Ken’s side of the family) made for me when I had cancer, each knot tied by someone in San Diego I didn’t know or by friends and family in Lawrence I did and do know. A half glass of water, manna from the heavens when I wake up parched in the middle of the night, sits on the dresser. One drawer is slightly open, revealing the Dr. Suess pajama bottoms (red with the Cat in the Hat) that Ken wears to humor me. All around, there are objects of meaning: a small raku vase made for me by a friend in Garden City; a candle in a tall glass with a woman lifting her arms to the sky and dancing, sent to me by Charron in NC; a small painting of a hill and cloud I bought from a woman I knew two decades old, and resting on a miniature rocking chair I was given as a teen. I see a small painting in green and gold with a sunflower stamp on it, given to me by a Vermont friend to celebrate the poet laureate position although my friend didn’t know I’m the daughter of a stamp dealer. Our wedding picture peeking out from an open box of magic words, a gift from a student in Maine. Necklaces I’ve made or found or was given. A wedding gift of a young girl playing the violin (wall-statue) hangs over a beautiful stone from my late friend Mark’s yard.
All around, at each moment, this life is surrounded with gifts and messages, both of which remind me of what matters: love, community, family, creativity, kindness. The dream catcher hanging in the window from one decade beside the glass butterfly from another behold the light. The wind rising in that glorious you-are-home call encompasses this place. My sons’ voices, talking about where the vacuum is, and then the sound of one son rolling it toward the other end of the house, tell of them peacefully doing their part.
Everywhere, every moment, there is life. Sometimes, it’s excruciating or thrilling, gentle or bombastic, overwhelming or interrupted. But it’s life none-the-less, each breath another reason for thanksgiving.