Hard to be too critical of a holiday that asks you to stop, take a look at yourself, and give thanks for what you have, what you've been given, all the while encouraging you to eat like you had four stomachs.
Of course, I'm not sure that's what Thanksgiving is anymore, except for the eating part. When requests for our pledge not to shop on Thanksgiving are popping up all over the Internet, one can't help but think we took our eye off the ball.
We didn't celebrate Thanksgiving in Scotland, obviously, but you wouldn't have the holiday without us and the rest of Britain. After all, we pretty much made life so unbearable for the Puritans in our country that most of the dour, fun-hating, overwrought bunch decided to take their chances in the wilderness that was this country then. You're welcome.
The first Thanksgiving we celebrated was in 1963, the November John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Though I was 14 at the time, what I actually remember about the assassination is mostly the bits I've seen replayed over and over for 50 years. What was it like in my house? Couldn't tell you. First Thanksgiving at my house? Couldn't tell you.
So on a normal fourth Thursday in November, at least since we've moved to Maine, I would usually work the holiday so that people who wanted to celebrate with their families could. Sheri and I would always find a quiet way to express the gratitude we felt, and have some turkey at the same time; sometimes we were even able to do that on the fourth Thursday.
But this is not a normal Thanksgiving. This is the one where I have cancer. This is the particular fourth Thursday in November where my family has to celebrate the holiday with my illness never too far from their thoughts.
My closest friends who are so grateful for what they have, find worry about the cancer that I have creeping in. You want to hear the craziest thing people have said to me as they struggle to help me through all of this? “I feel bad celebrating the holiday knowing what you're going through.”
Believe me, I hear the love in those words; I hear concern for me I had no idea was even possible and I'm deeply touched. But, the thought also makes me sad.
The touched/sad conflict is important. But it's hard to express “what you're going through” without sounding like I've been dipping into the Big Book of Clichés, or watching way too many movies on AMC: Evita's “Don't Cry for me Argentina;” Bogart's “It's easy to see our problems don't amount to a hill of beans” speech from “Casablanca;” almost any sentiment expressed by any Thanksgiving greeting card. And the capper, the ever loving capper... Lou Gehrig's speech in “Pride of the Yankees: “Today I feel like the luckiest man alive,” though that feels a bit over the top since it's still not exactly clear how sick I am, other than the Stage 3 note on my initial paperwork.
As a country, there seems to be a whole lot of hand wringing over whether the true meaning of Christmas is being lost. What about the true meaning of Thanksgiving? As Black Friday has crept into Black Thursday night, and the day after Halloween is steadily becoming the kick-off to the Christmas shopping season, don't you think we've lost something important? Of course we have.
But here I sit with my multiple myeloma, and my big writer's ego afraid to share what I really feel. And why would that be? Resorting to clichés? Surely. Sounding like Saul after he saw the light on his way to Tarsus? Grandiose, perhaps, but maybe a little bit? Afraid people will see denial where I see truth? You betcha.
I read that back to myself and wonder: “Don't you think you've lost something important.” Of course I have. I started writing this blog to record my journey, my feelings as I learned to deal with my cancer, and with the hope that maybe it might help one or two of the dozens of people who would actually read it. Easy-peasy.
But quickly friends began asking if they could post my blogs on their Facebook pages; could they Tweet it; could they put it on Tumblr? Dozens became hundreds, and then my friends at the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel asked if the could run my posts in the papers and online periodically and hundreds became thousands. People thought there was value in what I was writing; that it could help people who were hurting, not only over cancer, but countless other maladies of the spirit. It suddenly seemed like large responsibility. And I think I might have taken my eye off the ball. How I wrote things seemed to be becoming as important as what I wrote. Lord, even this last paragraph sounds like Jim's First Epistle to the Maineinites... “maladies of the spirit.”? Yikes.
So...Here's how I feel on the first Thanksgiving that Jim has cancer.
More than almost anything else, I feel a tremendous sense of clarity. I suppose it's a little bit like “Don't Sweat the Small Stuff” on massive doses of Red Bull. What is important jumps out at me, and what isn't shrivels away. There is a lot more shriveling than jumping out at, by the way. Is this too terrific to last? Dunno. Don't care. It makes today much better and today is what we have.
I have so much gratitude, so much to be thankful for... Though I certainty wouldn't recommend it, if you could see inside my head, you would be shocked at how much gratitude is there, and how little remorse. Do I wish I didn't have cancer? Well, duh, of course I do. I'm grateful, not an idiot. Besides, as my Kilbirnie granny back in Scotland always used to say: “If wishes werrrre horrrrrrses, beggarrrrrrs would rrrrride.”
It's what I live every day is what makes this the best of my 50 Thanksgivings. I have a wife whose love is something I never thought someone like me could experience. I have children who have survived my parenting to become daughters and mothers whose abilities baffle me, in a good way. I have stepchildren who have shown their love for me and assimilated me into their lives. It's no Brady Bunch, it's better- it's something I cherish. I have co-workers who email me heir support and keep me cheered up, and some of them I haven't seen in seven years.
The cancer, the multiple myeloma itself is incurable, but can be treatable. I have a medical team that makes me feel like my odds are pretty good.
Put it all together, my cancer v. the rest of my life and Happy Thanksgiving for the Arnolds it is.
So don't cry for me Argentina; there's no need. Have a great Thanksgiving. Try not to obsess too much over the meal. And if you could get around to reconciling with that relative you swore you never would reconcile with, that would be good.
There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere.