Thank You Clarity

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by, even swallowed by, news stories saturating our lives. Mass shootings in Colorado Springs, Charlottesville, and Chesapeake. The hopelessness that is the environment, the economy—recession, inflation, bankruptcies, and a plunging housing market. People are aggravated. I spent five minutes in line at 711 this morning and any number of fights could have broken out over everything from gas prices to the store being out of French vanilla flavoring for coffee.

Someone finally said, “What have I got to be thankful for? This day is about football, that’s all.”

So yeah, I said it, out loud and very mater-of-fact: “Well there’s that! Bills playing the Lions on a Thursday and you’re going to watch that instead of going to work. Are you kidding me? You’re welcome.”

I was halfway out the door when Wayne, who is absolutely always in a good and grateful mood, said, “What about you Bob? What are you thankful for?”

I kept moving, calling back, “That there are several dozen 711’s on my drive to my mother’s this morning and one of them has got to have French vanilla coffee.” We laughed.

But he struck the match and ignited my thoughts for most of my seventy-five-mile drive.

What am I thankful for?

I’ll tell you: Tens of thousands of moments.

Like the time in my twenties I managed a health club in New England for lots of money and no work and wore sweatpants to work and listened all day to loud music.

Like my car breaking down in a college parking lot.

Like a son I’m close to and a father I loved. Like the fact I got to spend all day watching Hallmark Channel movies with my nearly ninety-year-old mother and we laughed and had turkey.

Or the way it doesn’t bother me to walk in the rain or hike in the snow or how I love the hot sun on my back in summer. I love and am grateful for the visceral reality of life.

I’m grateful for the love of those I lost way too soon. It is one thing to lose a father when he is ninety, but another entirely when you lose your closest friends decades before they should have even retired. But today I am deeply grateful for how close we were no matter how fleeting the time. The love of those like Bobbie and Dave and Debbie and Trish and Cole and Joe and Lianne and Eddie—beautiful Eddie—and more (and more). My God how we laughed and sang and lived, truly lived as fully as we could for as long as we could. Today is not for mourning their absence but for appreciating their presence.

I’m grateful for those I know now, dance with now, like Letty and our long walks, Rick and our endless texts and deep discussions, Sean-my brother from a different mother, my brother who has tolerated me for my entire life, luckily with a sense of humor, and my sister who understands—really understands. For the complete sense of peace and absolute sense of self that engulfs me when I spend time with someone I hadn’t seen in two decades. For catching up. For that sense of “What decades?”

For that English teacher in an elevator in Norfolk who asked if I was who I am and then told me she was my student twenty-years earlier and I was the reason she wanted to teach English.

For the long ago and brief time when music dictated my days and people showed up. For the 12-string guitar on the other side of the room that keeps creeping closer to my desk (like I don’t notice). For Tim and the Jewish Mother Sessions that taught me the art of brevity and the gift of laughter.

For Cabernet Sauvignon. For Baileys. For cold water and the taste of saltwater on my lips even when I’m in the mountains hiking through snow.  

For that time Tom and I hiked to the top of the mountains outside Tucson to watch the sunrise. And when my friend in Mexico, Diego, stopped me on some dirty street corner in a small village. For those Friday nights in the late seventies at Sondra’s in Virginia Beach with Jonmark. For Mike and that outrageous hike in the Blue Ridge. For roasted lamb in Spain, duck in Prague, blinis in Russia, cod in Norway caught by Magnus, for pizza, for hard rolls with butter from Stanley’s in East Islip, pancakes with Jack, oysters with Michael, beer with Rick, rum with Sean, Mocha Frappuccino’s with Mom, for summer days on the beach at 77th Street with every single one of my friends, for that rust color that comes and disappears from the trees out front, for that rainbow on my walk from Tullycross to Renvlye. For moose on frozen lakes and cows that drive to work.

My dad’s deep laugh. My mom’s deep breathe after laughing, and how she never minded us tying her up or locking her out on the roof. For those quiet afternoons when I’d be alone and I’d call Dad’s 800 number and he always, always answered and had time to talk.

For Dire Straits’ “Why Worry” when I was doing just that on a balcony in Dakar, and for Neil Young’s “Thrasher” a week later on the back of a charrete three hundred miles east, and for Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” spontaneously sneaking from some radio two thousand miles south.

For Richard for teaching me empathy.

For Michael for teaching me kindness.

For all those who accepted me for who I am with more flaws and shortcomings than deserves a second chance, let alone a third or fourth of fifth.

For those who each day let me know I am going to be okay.

For those times I trusted my instinct. For those times I listened to others. For those times I said what I felt instead of keeping it in. For those times I walked away. For those times I stood my ground.

I am grateful for whatever trick of fate finds me warm here at Aerie instead of hungry in Ethiopia, clothed and clean instead of homeless in some third world camp.

For the railway. For the Camino.

Today my mother and I laughed a lot, and she taught me to be grateful for anyone who helps—like doctors and nurses and community workers—and for anyone who needs help, grateful I can spare the change, grateful I can do what I can.

I’m grateful tonight for not quitting.

I’m grateful for whatever’s next.

I’m grateful for the passing of time.

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