This afternoon I attended the graduation of my niece, Anastatia Spicer, at The Cambridge School of Weston in Massachusetts and discovered firsthand what an amazing education she received. All the graduation speakers were excellent, and I was especially struck by the honesty and courage of one of the Senior Speakers, Raekwon Samir Walker. He ended his talk by reciting one of my favorite poems, "Mother to Son" by Langston Hughes. It's a poem with vivid, concrete imagery and deep humanity, and as he read it, I was moved to tears. We gave Raekwon a standing ovation. A good poem to tuck in your backpack for whatever journey you're on. Thanks, Raekwon.
Happy Thanksgiving! The pilgrims celebrated to give thanks for their survival after a brutal winter and for a bountiful harvest. This holiday gives me many reasons to be grateful after surviving life's challenges and embracing abundance.
On Thanksgiving Day 1982 in Indianapolis at the home of my Aunt Marilyn and Uncle Tom Jeffers, with my large Irish-American Catholic clan gathered, Jim Zarzana, the love of my life, and I announced our engagement. It hadn't been an easy road for either of us to reach that "YES!" moment, each of us having learned many hard lessons from earlier relationships by the ages of 27 and 33. Our wedding's theme, "In the Fullness of Time," indicated the long, winding path that brought us to that moment. Right after our vows and first kiss as husband and wife in Sacred Heart Church at the University of Notre Dame, we surprised family and friends by connecting our right hand palms in a resounding, perfect high-five, something we'd been practicing privately for months but were unsure we'd actually pull off. But the moment came, and just as each couple makes a wedding their own, all our elation at finding each other, putting aside our fears, and saying "I do!" burst through in that high-five moment. At our wedding, the centerpieces were cornucopia-shaped baskets spilling with bright mesh bags bursting with Jordan almonds. This tradition from my husband's Sicilian ancestry reminds new couples that life is both sweet like the sugary coating and hard like the nut inside.
Today 28 years later, Jim and I will be feasting at the home of our friend Susan McLean with other dear friends and SMSU colleagues in Marshall, Minnesota with lively banter, laughter and stories around our table. Along the way, we've had to move literally and figuratively out of our comfort zones. We've received pink slips and, as writers, lots of rejection letters, but we've also been blessed with good work we love, our teaching and our writing, travel abroad with our students through SMSU's Global Studies Program, good health, and a wonderful faith community in Marshall.
On Thanksgiving Day 1985, 10 days overdue with our first child, I felt my permanent status would be walking blimp. We'd been invited to the home of good friends, but I worried my water might break right on their brand-new white dining room carpet. Thankfully, it broke at home while I was taking an afternoon nap. Finally! Jim and I packed and drove to the hospital. Elaine May Zarzana, arrived 8 hours later on November 29, 1985 at 12:24 a.m., 7 lbs., 5 oz., with a thick cap of black hair. With Jim by my side through it all, including cutting the umbilical cord, I was elated, couldn't sleep, just wanted to stare at our beautiful new daughter, to call and wake everyone in my family and tell them the good news. No one takes a birth for granted, but since we had a miscarriage with our first conception, we were especially grateful for our healthy girl. Now in a couple days, Elaine will turn 26. She has blessed our married life abundantly. We were both from big families--I have five siblings, Jim has three--and we planned to have three of our own children and adopt two. But life had other plans. Because we had a second miscarriage in 1988 and were unable to conceive again even after medical procedures, Elaine is our only child. But as one of her childhood friends once proclaimed, "Having Elaine must be like having 10 kids!" Yes, with dear friends of Elaine's who've been like "daughters and sons of our heart," our family has grown and expanded in ways we never imagined. And wherever Elaine goes, she has the gift of creating a sense of family and community. Currently working in Marshall at New Horizons Crisis Center as the Relationship Series Director, she's travels throughout southwest Minnesota teaching high school freshman how to become more knowledgeable about their own bodies and to embrace their sexuality in healthy ways. In a society that struggles mightily with unhealthy attitudes about sex, we're grateful Elaine has this opportunity to use her gifts and her passion for teaching teens as well as to connect with other people statewide in this field.
Synchronicity weaves through my days like a bright thread, and last week I experienced one of those moments. Elaine and I had driven up to the Twin Cities because she was serving on the statewide annual conference planning committee for Teenwise. On the way up, she asked me, "What's new?" I told her about the SMSU FOCUS piece that features the English Department, including Jim and myself. I also told her about a writer friend from grad school at Minnesota State University, Mankato who had a new book and was going to do a reading at SMSU as a visiting writer in the spring semester. On the way back to Marshall, Elaine said, "You know your writer friend who's reading at SMSU? She might be the keynote speaker at the Teenwise annual conference." As mother and daughter, I felt like we were on parallel paths, both following our passion for teaching, writing, and creating in different, life-giving ways.
Today the sun is shining in Marshall, our first snow has already melted off, and the air is crisp and clear. Overnight, we brined our 19.5-pound Heritage Grove Farm Bronze turkey in a spicy brown bath of broth, "flipped the bird" this morning from breast to back, will wrangle it into the oven this afternoon, load it in our car, and drive over to our friend Susan's home.
The journey to this Thanksgiving Day has been filled with God's "amazing grace," a song I've been drawn to play lately on our piano. I wish you a Thanksgiving filled with many reasons to give thanks and to stay wide open to God's amazing grace.
I love to play with words. To capture moments on the page. To explore the physical and spiritual geography of what I call "fly-over country." I write from imagination, observation and my own experience of wandering in fly-over country--the literal, physical spaces of my life on the Minnesota prairie and the inner territory of the soul.