Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Flavors of the Feast

Tomorrow, as I make cornbread dressing and cranberry-orange relish for Thanksgiving (my brother is doing the turkey, thank god!), my thoughts will drift to Thanksgivings long past. Voices and images from those times will appear, some randomly, some triggered by a task, an aroma, a taste, some newly escaped from the cobwebs of my brain: the pre-dinner ritual of polishing silver, washing crystal and china, setting the table just so; my grandmother, Hattye, grinding cranberries and oranges with her ancient grinder (man, I wish I had that grinder!), my mother baking and then drying bread for dressing, the chop, chop, chopping of onion and celery, the constant tasting of everything, and the ambrosia.....food for the gods. Each of these memories flavor this year's delectables, are talked about again and again, and with the talking, are passed on to my daughters for future Thanksgiving dinners.

I wonder if we even know how profound the traditions we create as families are. How crucial they are to our children's lives, to their growth, to their sense of belonging. And how devastating it is when there are none to which a child can anchor himself or herself. I can't imagine not being able to draw from the incredibly rich traditions and stories of my family, not having that history to add girth and foundation to my history, having no backdrop for my life.

And yet, there are thousands upon thousands of kids who come to us every year totally unmoored from family, from their history, from anything positive to draw upon. And as their temporary sanctuaries, it is our job to BE that anchor, that history, that positive; to create memories and traditions that will live on in them, that will give them stories they want to tell their children, traditions they want to emulate.

Thanksgiving is a very big tradition at Promise House.....every year.....and this year will be no different. There will be tons of food, fun, and memories-in-the-making; so that on some future day, when one of our teens is fixing his or her family's Thanksgiving dinner, voices and images of a happy, long-past Thanksgiving at Promise House will appear and will flavor their feast.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Gratitude Lists

Thanksgiving is coming to Promise House today. We will enjoy our annual Thanksgiving Lunch with staff and teens. Our infamous cook, Peggy, has already done the turkey, dressing, and gravy. The rest of us are bringing sides (I hope!) We usually end up with five times more desserts than anything else.

So, what to be grateful for today? All of the twelve-step programs encourage daily gratitude lists to connect with what is right in our lives. In several of the darkest times of my life, these lists have saved me from absolute despair. But, when things get better, we (at least I) "forget" to do them. It's like the saying, "No one in a fox hole does not believe in God".....at our very worst or most fearful or most desperate, we call out, reaching for anything to ease our misery. In better times, we slide into complacency and forgetfulness. We take good things for granted.

But life is only a fleeting moment. What is here this minute is gone the next. There is no tomorrow.....certainly no guarantee of one. To be grateful in the moment, for whatever is in your life is a true gift and skill. To be present, really present TODAY, this minute, this second, is no easy task. Yet, it is the ONLY way to stay in gratitude.

Sounds great, huh? I can only get glimpses of that state of being. I can take baby steps every day. I can text Leslie and tell her I love her. I can "FaceTime" Kat and tell her how beautiful she is. I can look around at my home, my neighbors, my "hood" and smile. I can call my father and yell (he's almost deaf) how glad I am that he is still with us.

Today, I am grateful for Peggy's sweet potato pies, Sonja's green salad, Paloma going and getting ice cream cakes, and the fact that the kitchen and dining room at PH will be crammed with teens and adults sharing a meal together. The smells will be intoxicating, the conversation loud and hilarious, the Turkey games stupid and fun, the amount of food our teens eat, awe-inspiring.

What's on your gratitude list today?