Last Thanksgiving, my childhood friend Anna, along with her family, opened up their doors to welcome us into their home. We enjoyed a dinner that married savory turkey for the carnivorous diners and tofu turkey for my vegetarian daughter. Complementary gastronomic delights helped create an unforgettable experience.
A somber underbelly lined the free-flowing conversation around the dinner table where, nine days prior, a seat was reserved for my son. What turned out to be our worst nightmare come to life, he never boarded the plane to return home.
One appreciated diversion, though, was my daughter’s friend Raj, originally from India, who savored his first American Thanksgiving dinner. My son, who had a profound interest in geography as well as different cultures, would have taken a keen interest in Raj’s background and, surely, liked his quick wit.
Recently, I viewed a painting “Seat at the Table” on display in a corporation. It pictures a part of a table and three prominent chairs. A part of another chair indicates a continuum. There is nothing significant about the artwork except its message. “Seat at the Table” symbolizes “breaking bread” among family, friends, associates and business colleagues. It is meant to portray inclusivity at the home and office where there is “always a seat at the table” for everyone regardless of a person’s “political affiliation, gender, beliefs, values, social class, age, disability, religion, sexuality, race, ethnicity, language, nationality, beauty, occupation, education, criminality, sport team affiliation or other personal characteristics.”
The message ends, “giving all an opportunity to have a seat at the table is vital for existence.”
Unfortunately, I think eventually we all have to face societal dinner tables where seats are limited and few; sometimes non-existent. I know, personally, as a first-generation American, more times than not, growing up, seats were not offered. Fortunately, in my mid-twenties that dilemma turned around completely, and I secured many seats at many tables.
In my son’s case, more times than not, seats never turned up for him at anyone’s dinner table (with the exception of his home where a seat waited 24/7, 365 days a year!). However, when you have mental illness, sometimes it’s difficult to gauge seat availability, never mind navigate to the appropriate room. Obviously, in the end he saw no seat anywhere in his hopeless eyes and faith took a sabbatical.
Paradoxically, this year, my daughter said to me on my son’s one-year death anniversary, “The universe takes care of us.”
Does the universe take care of us because we possess faith? Does the universe take care of us, because we are not imprisoned by mental illness and, thereby, capable of accepting its generosity? Who knows. What I do know is that from the moment Anna offered us seats at her Thanksgiving table, I and my daughter and other grievers took comfort at many other tables throughout this past heartbreaking year. Admittedly, the raw reality was that a few tables were seat-less. For instance, my children’s aunt whom we reached out to, but did not extend a hand to my daughter and me as we sank in the quicksand of vulnerability and sorrow. Sarcastically, I can say now, past the hurt, Auntie probably finds her seat in the pew every Sunday and plays the part of Good Samaritan!
I think a prerequisite for faith is trust. Over and over I’ve been burnt in different ways for trusting, but continue to risk. Throughout my adulthood, I always prided myself at setting a dinner table to include everyone. Compassion aside, I simply like people and find nearly everyone fascinating — with the exception of people like Auntie.
The return to regular blogging was also a big risk for me. I trusted enough to write my heart out to strangers. Thus far, I must say, I’ve found a safety net among my fellow bloggers.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to thank every single one of you. You’ve played a big part in this faith journey where more times than not my faith odometer is on zero. I have gotten to know many of you this past year reading intimate, informative, refreshing and enlightening posts, reading poems and marveling at photos and artwork.
In addition, your words of encouragement and connections have helped to string me along on this faith journey.
Just today, thinking no one read last week’s post, I received a heartfelt comment from Shira:
Thank you for sharing that faith that helped you to live, even if you didn’t mean to. Thank you for being here with us now.
Sending Safe Air Hugs, if you’d like them,
In turn, please realize, there is always an empty seat at my table. After all, Thanksgiving, as I used to say to my children, should be celebrated every day, not only one day a year.
Now, with the holiday upon us, I wish you a Thanksgiving overflowing with peace, love, laughter and faith that if a seat at one’s dinner table isn’t available, another one will open up somewhere else.