The Gray of November

In New England, November is gray.  The lemon skies of last summer are now streaked with gray clouds that  threaten to wash rain and sleet over the granite curbs, across pavements and into the churning gray waters of the Amoskeag River.  The trees that a few short weeks ago were afire with crimson and gold now stand naked and trembling in the cold November wind.  Pastel blouses are packed away, replaced by wooly sweaters, and windows are latched to keep the frigid nights from creeping into my bedroom to steal the warm air from under my thick comforter.

You might  think that I would dread the eleventh month of the year, but I embrace November.  I love the chilly breezes that promise to coat the wooded area behind my house in sparkling blankets of white snow.  I love the scent of wood smoke that curls from rooftops and wafts across the crisp evening sky.  I love the snaking lines of squirming children, who impatiently wait to sit on Santa’s knee, and the decorated wreathes and trees that overnight appear in store windows.

November brings Thanksgiving- a time for all good families and friends to bond together over food and football.  When I was growing up, Thanksgiving meant waking to the spicy aroma of turkey that was already roasting in the oven.  We would drag out the cut glass and crystal dishes from the back of the china closet, and fill them with stuffed celery and black olives- delicacies that in our home were served only on holidays.  The windows in my mother’s kitchen would cloud with steam as we brought bowl after plate of turkey, stuffing, and vegetables to our crowded table.  And there would be pies- big sloppy pies, smelling of clove and cinnamon, overflowing with apple and pumpkin.  Before dinner, we would crowd together around our mismatched tables and chairs, hold hands, and thank God for the bounty with which He had graced our family.

After my children were born, we often joined my mother, my sister Martha-Jean and her husband Robert for Thanksgiving dinner.  Their old farmhouse teemed with kids- cousins who banded together to play board games, trade baseball cards, and commiserate over teenage acne.  Tables would groan from the weight of plates filled with homemade bread, cheese, vegetables and dip.  The turkey sputtered from the bulging oven and pies lined the counter. Finally, at dinner time we would crowd together around mismatched tables and chairs, hold hands, and thank God for the bounty with which He had graced our family.

Last Thanksgiving, my mother had just received a diagnosis of leukemia. She was already weakened, preferring the comfort of her bedroom to joining the family for dinner.  I ran back and forth from the kitchen to her room, bringing her snacks, filling her coffee cup, and sitting with her. Robert brought her a big box of chocolates and we indulged together, giggling like two naughty little girls who were sneaking treats.  I treasure that last holiday with her.  The memory is a gift I pull out of a soft velvet case every now and then.  I close my eyes and the world stops.  I hear my mother’s laughter, feel her soft cheek, smell her soft curls.  But mostly I see her kind gray eyes.

This year Thanksgiving is different.  Gabriel will spend it with friends in Florida.  Abby will split the holiday between our family and her future in-laws.  Elizabeth will be preparing for Black Friday sales.  And for the first time, my mother will not be here.

The cold gray November skies will remind me of her warm gray eyes- eyes that lovingly watched her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren gather around a Thanksgiving table.  I will lift a toast to her and then we will once again gather around mismatched tables and chairs, hold hands, and thank God for the bounty with which He has graced our family.


Musings on Thanksgiving

A few weeks ago, I met with a homeless man who was reported to be sleeping in the waiting area of the medical facility where I work.  He had come as a follow-up to an Emergency Room visit, and was animatedly yelling at one of the appointment secretaries because she did not have hot water he could use for making coffee.


After he was assessed by a doctor and declared to be mentally competent and physically stable, it was my job to discuss his behavior and set some limitations.  I walked into the exam room, introduced myself and sat across from him.  We chatted about his Emergency Room visit, what he has for resources, and how he could access the medical care he needs.  He is recently released from prison. He sleeps at the shelter.  He can get care from the mobile community health van.  He eats at the food kitchen.  He does not need anything else from our doctor. 


He was painfully thin, and his skin was orange from the sun and wind.  His white hair was yellow from the smoke of too many cigarettes, and as he pulled a small bottle of instant coffee from his backpack, he chastised me for not supplying him with hot water.


His demeanor became dark, angry and accusing, as I explained that the clinic is not set up for this; that he cannot sleep all day in the waiting area, and he cannot yell at our staff.  I acted as an agent for the organization that pays my salary, not unkind, respectful, calm, firm.


He left, slowly hoisting his pack on his shoulder, pedaling his bike against the cold October wind. I watched him from the second floor window until he disappeared over the hill’s horizon.


I did my job the way I am supposed to.  His own choices have created his destiny.  I know that I cannot save him, or save the world.


So why does he haunt me weeks later, as I serve up turkey and stuffing in a warm home with soft beds and a microwave that can crank out hot water for coffee in less than sixty seconds? 

Why do I feel so badly?


I did my job the way I am supposed to.


%d bloggers like this: