November 28, 2023

Thankfulness From Another Continent

I’m grateful I was healthy enough to travel to my beloved Italy. To cross boundaries, alone, is a blessing.

I wrote this column in view of the Arno River, celebrated in operas, paintings and literature.

My ears were filled with the tones of my ancestors’ Italian, and my Thanksgiving dinner was … pizza.

It’s only the second time in 61 years I wasn’t sitting around a table with family and friends, giving thanks.

The first time was 40 years ago during my junior year in Paris.

Back then, my father was dying of cancer, I was homesick and there wasn’t much to celebrate. I bought a tarte Tatin with apples since the French didn’t understand the concept of pumpkin pie, and sat alone in my room, sulking.

I missed everything, including Turkey Day football. Feel free to raise your eyes at the thought of poor little Christine toughing it out in the City of Light.

This time, I again found myself in a city that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, the most American of holidays.

The difference between the past and the present is striking. I still didn’t eating pumpkin pie and to be honest, I can’t stand that dessert so it’s no great loss.

My father is now gone, and he’s been joined by my mother, both grandmothers and many other family and dear friends. The voices I heard still speak foreign languages, and I once again missed classic football games.

The passage of time has taught me gratitude for what I have to balance out the regret for what I’ve lost, and an appreciation for the small cone of sand still left in suspension at the top of the hourglass.

I’m not old, but youth and middle age are in the rearview mirror of my terrestrial vehicle, and so I understand the need to prioritize. In that process, gratitude becomes essential in helping me discard the irrelevant and cling jealously to the essential.

My family, what remains of it, is essential.

They gathered at the table and consume turkey and all the accompanying artery-clogging sides, and chattered away about things that don’t matter.

But the chattering, the gathering together and even the momentary artery-clogging matter. Rituals matter. Being together matters. Looking up from the phones matter.

Prayers, even hurried-through-to-get-to-the-stuffing kind, matter.

And being an ocean away from them, hours ahead and out of sight made them matter to me more than any single thing in my life. That dwindling cone of sand, and all.

I’m grateful I was healthy enough to travel to my beloved Italy, unhampered by financial, or worse, physical obstacles.

To cross boundaries, alone, is a blessing.

It teaches me to appreciate my own good company and helps open me up to strangers who I’d otherwise never encounter.

For instance, I met a man, a restaurateur from Albania who remade his life in Florence after having been imprisoned in his native country under communist rule.

He spoke an Italian that Dante would have admired and told me I had the “look of a Modigliani” woman, which isn’t the compliment he seemed to think it was, but I’ll take it. Had I been with a traveling companion, that conversation would never have taken place.

I am now and always will be grateful for my boss, who is like family and taught me to love my Italian heritage.

His own family has enriched and enlarged the circle of those who make this temporal stage a thing of value. My female friends, sisters in a very real way, are small in number but fill a gaping hole with their presence in my life.

Another thing that fills me with gratitude is this column, and the ability to speak to strangers in a way that seems both intimate and ritualistic.

Every week, we get together, readers and writers, and have a two-way conversation about everything from abortion to football to massacres to memories. The list is endless.

And it is a two-way conversation, because I always hear back from you, either directly or indirectly from friends who say “Did you see that letter in the paper attacking you?”

It’s all part of the process, and it means we’re still engaged in the world. For that, I am deeply grateful because the alternative is an intellectual graveyard peppered with the headstones of the ignorant and the uninvolved.

I do hope that you had reason to give thanks, as I did. I hope that you always will.

Copyright 2023 Christine Flowers

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