Thanksgiving has become my favorite holiday. I have said so before, and I hope to say so again. It has been ever since I had my first one right after my CLL diagnosis in 2008. It’s remarkable how a cancer diagnosis will change one’s mindset. So many things, once urgent, have taken a back seat to a different set of priorities. A significantly enhanced thankfulness for what I have is one of the new priorities.
Oh, I was thankful, before, but thankfulness has accelerated to a whole different level, for in the process, I find myself frequently thankful for the simple moment I am experiencing. If I never know health again, I have known health. If I never know peace again, I have known peace. It is humbling to note to oneself the moments which may never pass again, and to seize them as they pass by, leaving us able to recapture them as if they were permanently embossed on our psyche. Nothing can sully the times I have known unless it is an inappropriate preoccupation with the future, for it is an oppressive worry about an uncertain future that can tarnish the moments I am able to experience now.
In the midst of illness, strife, division, and a harsh alarmist rhetoric besetting us from every side, I have known the greatest joy and peace in simply being still and observing the landscape richly displayed before my eyes, the sound of my grandchildren playing, the closeness of my wife of thirty-four years, and the comfort of an old guitar in my hands, singing a simple but powerful song as my voice drifts off into the ether on the warmth of a soft, Southern evening. At times like those, which are plentiful, I have shut off my incessant internal dialog; I was simply still, captured by the precise moment when a single minute stretches into the eternal.
The internal dialog is punishing. It ponders every ‘what if?’, even those that are unlikely, and magnifies them into something grotesque, surreal, robbing us of the eternally present moment for a promise it may or may not deliver. If it were a trade, I’d say we made a bad bargain in swapping what we have in hand for what’s behind door number three. Sometimes you hit the mother lode, and sometimes behind that door is a braying jackass: a pack animal unsuitable to ride, that only works with the firmest persuasion, eats all your oats, fouls its own quarters with its refuse, and pierces the peace with its harsh voice.
Contentment does not come easy for many. But without thankfulness, without gratitude, there can be no contentment. Thankfulness brings us to a point where our focus is seldom on the things we lack. We all lack something, but to put the lack on an altar and make its desire an object of worship is to create a god that can never satisfy us, for the acquisition of what it is we think we lack never brings us any long term peace; it only satisfies for a while, until some new lack is elevated, which occurs just as soon as the thankfulness for the previous object wears off, cast aside much like the formerly new broom that once swept well.
One can learn to shut off their internal dialog. The more one practices it, the better they can get. Nothing else frustrates the present like the invasive omnipresence of a mind that will not be still. Omnipresence is not omniscience. The problem with our omnipresent, chattering minds is that they do not know the future; they only speculate, turning us all into solipsists, thinking that the world only exists because of our perception.
“I think, therefore I am,” said Descartes, whispering from across the centuries into my left ear as I write.
“I think so, too, Rene,” I reply, “But that does not define the cosmos, merely that I am conscious and alive.” I dismiss him with a wave of my hand.
He disappears uttering a single, “Meirde,” as his goodbye.
A significant amount of meirde is to be expected with our internal dialog, especially if we opted for the aforementioned door number three. We must recognize the legitimate from the meirde. I am not interested in contemplating philosophy through the realm of internal dialog, even if from the first appearance it was ol’ Rene himself doing the prompting. It wasn’t him, really. It was me and my internal dialog. So shut up, already!
Oddly, there is no escaping the internal dialog since it is racing at the moment I type this. This is an interesting paradox. I sit here encouraging you to learn to shut off your internal dialog while relying on my internal dialog. I am caught between opposing mirrors. I see myself curving off into infinity, each generation of the illusion amplifies the distortions in the mirror, each generation less perfect that its father, until the distortions become caricatures right before the curve carries me out of sight.
That’s a lot like the cancer in my body. The cells replicate themselves, and having erred, replicate the errors. Eventually they will distort until they don’t do what they are supposed to do, and become so untoward that they curve me off into the infinite areas that exist, but can no longer be seen. At least that’s what my internal dialog is trying to tell me, if I were listening to it.
But I’m not. I am writing this. I am rejecting what my internal dialog says. I can hear it, but it is far in the background, like the hum of a generator running in the distance that has long become a white noise, hardly noticeable until it stops running, the quiet becoming an ominous non-sound. If a tree falls in the woods…? What about the sound you don’t hear? Does it also communicate? If so, what?
Don’t answer that. It is merely rhetorical. An attempt to answer will start up your internal dialog and send you off into myriad places that are everywhere else than where you should be on Thanksgiving Day, which is here and now.
So? What will I tell myself, today?
I will tell myself nothing. I will simply look around me and be thankful for the people within my scope, and for the plate full of the plenty that will be set before me. I will refuse admittance of any interlopers, including attempt by my internal dialog to hijack my own brain by forcing me to be somewhere other than where I am.
If you can’t do that, I understand. At times, I can’t either. But not today. Today, as soon as I hit the publish button and the sun comes up, I will be totally immersed in each moment of the day. I will wring out each moment until it cries “Uncle” before letting it go on its way. It could be Thanksgiving Day until, maybe…say…Saturday afternoon.
Come Saturday afternoon, I will begin to worry recklessly about the Egg Bowl, and whether my beloved Ole Miss can whip Mississippi State. Then I will worry about Alabama and Auburn in the Iron Bowl. I will fret and be punished by endless scenarios yielding the most promising and the most devastating predictions, running the gamut of glorious victory to a baleful defeat. I envision myself cheering, shouting, jumping on the furniture in celebration. I also envision myself in utter despair and dejection as I was last week during the Arkansas game, watching an impotent Ole Miss an ignominious beating. Either one is possible. A hoped for exuberance is tempered by prior experience, but at this point, both are beyond my control, and a waste of my personal energy, for simply wanting something earnestly cannot make it happen when the game must be played out by others. What is it that they want, I wonder?
The fact that I can think of a glorious victory and a baleful defeat in reference to something as eternally insignificant as a football game is reason enough to drink in every moment of thankfulness on this Thanksgiving day. That’s what I tell myself, and I’m sticking to it. Well, sticking to it until I quit telling myself anything. Then, I’ll just stick to it without saying anything, which will be better. Hmmmm! A whole lot of things in life go better when nothing is said. That’s something to think about….later.
A sincere Thankfulness compels us to be fully present with the loved ones in our midst.
Did I say thanks?
Here’s my Thanksgiving song. From a live performace at Meridian Community College in 2013, sharing the stage with my daughter Piper and life long friends.
©2014 Mississippi Chris Sharp