Today is Thanksgiving, and I can so clearly recall the dark, mysterious Alaskan wonderland we awoke to last year when we fled north for the holiday, to spend time with good friends and be somewhere–anywhere–different.
And I have quite a few relatively fresh, crisp memories of the Thanksgiving before that when we escaped to Virginia to spend time with my best friend and her family: the rotund flakes of snow that took their own sweet time ambling down toward us, the laughter of the girls, the warm welcome we received in their lovely hilltop home.
But as to the Thanksgiving before that, during Steve’s last holiday season, the memories are few and fuzzy: a super-sized table set up in our front room with three generations snuggled in side-by-side. Steve being very helpful, with a few spikes of irritability tossed in for good measure. But there really is so little I can recall. I think that’s because pretty much everything “Steve” is fading away, receding into the distance.
It’s as if–while I wasn’t looking–someone has been layering pieces of thin, colored film over my heart and memory. The process has been so subtle that in those times when I am paying attention, I’m often shocked at how hard it has become to see, feel and truly remember Steve.
One of my most cherished photos sits on my bathroom counter where I can see it often. It shows Steve and eleven-year-old Ellie dressed up for a father-daughter dance, posing for the photographer in front of a burgundy curtain decorated with white doily hearts. It captures a sweet moment of courage, love and pride: courage on Steve’s part because he so hated posing for a camera, and only love for his daughter would motivate him to endure it. I see Ellie’s love, pride and maybe just a hint of motherly chuckling at her beloved dad and his struggle to stand there long enough for a photo. I can almost hear her thinking “Silly Dad! Stick with me and I’ll get you through this!”
So many layers have been shellacked over my heart in the past two years that it feels as though I’m on a train, having left Steve at the depot. I turn and look back toward the station, hoping to see him as the train pulls away. But already I can barely make him out as he shrinks and blends into the crowd on the platform. My stomach slowly drops down to my feet as I realize this is a one-way train, and I will never in this life have a clearer sense of him than I do today.
And while I know heaven will be the most overwhelmingly rich experience we could imagine (and then some!), it’s the opportunity to strip off all of those layers adhered to my heart and once again simply encounter Steve up close, soul-to-soul, that brings me sweet solace.
Today I am thankful for my little family–past, present and future. And while you are enjoying all of the sights and smells of Thanksgiving festivities, be sure to pause and savor the presence of those you hold dear. Because really, were we to lose all of the trappings and trimmings of the season, we would still be left with the most essential elements: family, friends and the loving God we can thank for all of it.