Yesterday afternoon, I turned on the radio, and All Things Considered was doing a segment on French’s green bean casserole. You know the stuff: canned beans, mushroom soup, fried onions from a third can. It embodies everything awful about 1950’s cooking, except that it is utterly, improbably, satisfying. It tastes of home, even if your mother never made it.
Yesterday, it also soothed my soul. It brought a whiff of the normal world. After a month (three months? five months?) of heartbreak, each and every time I turned on the radio or looked at the paper, it felt wonderful to hear something redolent of joy: Thanksgiving, cooking, gathering with the friends of your right hand. A break from horror, if only for a day.
The stores were full of it: towers of broccoli, heaps of brussels sprouts, a vast array of pies. At least twice as much as usual, as if the proprietors expected everyone in DC suddenly to begin to cook. Perhaps we should, at that. There is something wonderful in feeding the people you love, choosing to spend an hour making something you know will bring them joy. It’s a way of participating in their lives, sustaining them in all the good they do and are.
The first Thanksgiving came in the midst of a hard time. A raw continent, settlers who’d left brick homes in a settled land for log cabins that barely dented the cold, crop failures and the death of half the settlement. We forget that, in our plenty. It was a celebration, not of abundance, but of survival. Seizing the joy of the each day, not knowing what the next would bring.
We who live comfortable lives have lost the gift for it, that way of seeing our lives. We cling to the good things, seek to make them last forever. I suspect most people do. But the truth is, even one day of peace is a blessing. One day of abundance is a gift many do not know. Being able to look at the faces of people dear to us is not something we should take for granted. When the Pilgrims left England, when my own ancestors left Russia and Poland, they knew they would not see their families again. That must have been the hardest part of it: not venturing into the unknown, but leaving behind what was loved.
Savor it, tomorrow. The turkey, the pies, the laughter, all of it. Turn off your radio, and have one day of joy. The world will be waiting for you when you choose to join it again. But this, too, is the world: friendship and peace and joy — leaven in the loaf, the pearl of great price, the small seed of God that is waiting to run wild, to enter our hearts, to bind up all this sorry world and make us whole.