The pair in the main photo had their eyes riveted on me as I walked away from the car that particular afternoon. For them, every return that Kathleen or I made to the car represented a miracle that warranted celebration. Living in hope. That’s dogs. Being anthropomorphic—after all, one of the great joys of including animals in your family—we might also say that their tail-wagging frenzy demonstrated a form of gratitude.
In this week when Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, those loved and sadly departed animals are on my list of life’s treasured creatures that I want to call to mind. Thank you, Jack, little Roux, and the other dogs that have enriched our lives.
For me, gratitude prompts hope, even in difficult times. This year’s COVID circumstances have rendered American Thanksgiving a very personal affair, and this post will be personal. So, here goes, in no particular order.
This year’s lockdown probably has encouraged more television watching than normal. I am particularly appreciative of two British series that have brought laughter and knowledge to our home, “Gavin and Stacey” for the former and “This Farming Life” for the latter. It should be noted that working dogs played wonderful supporting roles in the Scottish farming series.
I loved raising our kids in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia as much as I loved spending most of my childhood there. You can take the boy out of Mt. Airy, but you can’t take the Mt. Airy out of the boy. The map of all those beloved streets graces a wall in our place to this day.
Having been a member of the same band for decades is one of the blessings of my life. Much to our dismay, COVID put a hold on the Sacred CowBoys performance schedule, but I’ll raise a glass on Thursday to my band brothers, as we look forward to playing together again.
The picture above shows CowBoy drummer Jerry Howard on his pre-COVID inaugural visit to Maine. Kathleen and I finally got him to leave Philly long enough to make his first trip to Maine, the place we’ve happily called home for nearly nine years. For me, this photo conjures up a list of things for which I am grateful: living in Maine, having friends like Jerry (and friend Cece who took the photograph) in our lives, and Kathleen, whom I love calling wife, best friend, and co-conspirator.
Michael J. Napoletano, the guy in the wheelchair, can also be seen in the earlier band pic. Why would a band photo include a non-musician? Because it’s Michael. He blessed the band with enough help and love that sticking him in that shot was a no-brainer. This picture was taken the day Kathleen and I busted him out of Jefferson Hospital after his second bone marrow transplant. We lost him three years ago and think about him every day. Remember to stop and appreciate the families we choose, as well as the ones we are given. Both kinds matter.
This is a shot Kathleen took of me and our kids. Love them to the moon.
Another chosen family for me is my rugby club and the entire rugby community. The photo was taken at the first match in America played by an inclusive, mixed-abilities rugby club. Very proud of my brothers and sisters at Blackthorn RFC for trail-blazing in such a good way. Also a shout-out to Philadelphia Inquirer writer Helen Ubiñas for spreading the word. https://www.inquirer.com/opinion/helen-ubinas-blackthorn-rugby-football-horsham-college-settlement-camp-20191207.html
My teacher and mentor Dianne Benedict influenced me in both practical and cosmic ways when I was blessed to study writing with her at Vermont College. Thank you, Dianne and all of the mentors, teachers, role-models in my life. I still go back to “The Bath,” one of the stories in that collection when I want to revisit soulful, close to the bone writing. https://www.amazon.com/Shiny-Objects-Short-Fiction-Award/dp/0877451168/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=shiny+objects+dianne+benedict&qid=1606082252&s=books&sr=1-1
Readers of last week’s post might be inclined to look at this list of blessings for which I am grateful through the lens of Albert Bandura’s concept of reciprocal determinism. All of these people and places influenced the way I think and behave. Again, environment, behaviors, and cognitions take turns influencing one another—leading us to become the people we are.
This Thursday, we can’t sit and eat with very many of the people who’ve blessed our lives, but we can thank them, both the living and the dead. And when we laugh, as we must when we eat with people we love, remember the words of Gina Barreca, another author whose kindness and talent I appreciate.
Depending on your perspective, you might not be able to do all that thanking without also nodding respectfully toward a higher power. What we all can do is show love to the people who will be eating with us, and recognize that we didn’t get to that feast alone. And that should be a source of hope.
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Ned Bachus is the author of Open Admissions (Wild River Books, 2017) and of the TURNING POINTS blog on nedbachus.com and on his OPEN ADMISSIONS Facebook Page. City of Brotherly Love (Fleur-de-Lis Books), his book of stories, was awarded the 2013 IPPY Gold Medal for Literary Fiction.