Thanksgiving Man

Yesterday I experienced two moving moments. One was simple, a man walking along a sidewalk in my hometown. He was arguing passionately with someone, but he was totally alone, his actions said that he was invisible, and I felt sad. The second moment was poignant and filled my soul with warmth. It happened after my wife and I received one of those phone calls a parent dreads. As I watched my son being hugged by cousins and his sister, I couldn’t help but think that once that man on the street had experienced warmth and touch and the comfort of shared words. Thanksgiving is being aware, not just aware of blessings and reacting with gratitude, but awareness of our hurt and loneliness. I don’t know how to write poetic verse, but it just seemed appropriate to write about these two moments in verse even if I don’t know the rules of poetry.

Thanksgiving Man

A brisk clear wind swirls leaves under
my tires as I drive along the avenue
Thanksgiving Eve and I feel full
warm and happy as I see a man striding toward me
on the sidewalk soaking up everything he owns
the sun and wind on his face
I glance at his weathered-beaten animated features
He is angry with his foe
his ragged beard bobs and sways as he screams into the breeze

An argument rages as he walks against the wind
against the sky
against his mind
fighting his words
struggling to convince himself
wrestling his better angels
he rages
slamming them to the sidewalk
he wages
an endless battle in the trenches of his mind
his words fall broken and shattered
to the cold hard sidewalk below

Followed everywhere by his warmth
his quiet companion
slung over his back
limply going for a ride
in the broad daylight of plenty
plenty of sun
plenty of wind
plenty of silence and the great outdoors

The cold hard street caresses
words unanswered, argument unheard
The invisible Thanksgiving Man
waits not for a reply
He speaks again, rebutting himself
His own voice, his own question
Louder, faster, furious, the argument
won and lost by the same man

Thanksgiving Man walks unseen
speaking words unheard
He steps briskly traveling nowhere
howling lonely cold words that nobody hears

In my warm house my cell phone rings
It’s my son, something has happened
I don’t understand, as my wife holds the phone
then hands it to me, and I hear his voice
I hear my son’s voice and he hears mine
Everything is fine, broken, replaceable
bendable, accidents happen
And he is ok, my son is ok
As I say thank you, thank you,
My words are floating in the warmth
Prayer together around a warm table
Warm hands held touching connecting
cosmic wonder divine airwaves

Thanksgiving Man hugs his quiet companion
As my son walks in the door
his sister and cousins run
group hugs
loud voices embrace my son and catch him before
he falls, on the sidewalk, alone

Surrounded by souls, caressed by voices
words warmed by touch
an abundance of love and food and table talk
My son hears and we hear and smile and talk and laugh
tonight my son sleeps in a
hammock slung in our recreation room
because he wants to sleep in a
hammock slung in our recreation room
in the warmth of our home, the Autumn of our Thankfulness

My son is not alone…I think of Thanksgiving Man
I wonder where he hangs his hammock
I wonder who hears his screams
I wonder who hugs his hurt
I wonder if he knows my son is ok tonight
sleeping in the warmth of his swaying hammock
in the glow and warmth of our Autumn of Thanksgiving

Nicholas Kristof writes clearly about thoughts that have been on my heart this Thanksgiving as we consider how we have been blessed and why we are thankful and if being thankful is simply a matter of accumulating on a scorecard how much better off we are than our neighbor. Here is what he wrote in the NY Times in an article about empathy and how we see other people…or how we don’t see them at all.

one of the strongest determinants of ending up poor is being born poor. As Warren Buffett puts it, our life outcomes often depend on the “ovarian lottery.” Sure, some people transcend their circumstances, but it’s callous for those born on second or third base to denounce the poor for failing to hit home runs.

John Rawls, the brilliant 20th-century philosopher, argued for a society that seems fair if we consider it from behind a “veil of ignorance” — meaning we don’t know whether we’ll be born to an investment banker or a teenage mom, in a leafy suburb or a gang-ridden inner city, healthy or disabled, smart or struggling, privileged or disadvantaged. That’s a shrewd analytical tool — and who among us would argue for food stamp cuts if we thought we might be among the hungry children?

As we celebrate Thanksgiving, let’s remember that the difference between being surrounded by a loving family or being homeless on the street is determined not just by our own level of virtue or self-discipline, but also by an inextricable mix of luck, biography, brain chemistry and genetics.

For those who are well-off, it may be easier to castigate the irresponsibility of the poor than to recognize that success in life is a reflection not only of enterprise and willpower, but also of random chance and early upbringing.

Low-income Americans, who actually encounter the needy in daily life, understand this complexity and respond with empathy. Researchers say that’s why the poorest 20 percent of Americans donate more to charity, as a fraction of their incomes, than the richest 20 percent. Meet those who need help, especially children, and you become less judgmental and more compassionate.

7 responses to “Thanksgiving Man”

  1. What a beautiful reflection of what Thanksgiving is really about. We truly are blessed in our family. So much love within which encompasses the extended family. I often think about how blessed my sons are to have cousin/brothers like the Taylor boys. Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Thank you Aunt Karen. Yes, I’ve thought often of the same thing as I have watched Brandon with Trey and Jace, Jake, David, Drew, Joel and others. It’s fun to see how they get along so well. Thanks for reading and commenting and encouraging me…Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Words! They can be magical and transport us to other worlds. And they can also turn our souls inside out for others to see and learn. God has given you a precious gift and I thank you for using it to inspire us to be better children of God. It has been an incredible week of emotional highs. Thanks for putting it into words. Love, Mom

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