Happy Thanksgiving Eve! It is a time when many gather with friends and family, sharing time together over a meal. In my family, it’s a long weekend that often involves some combination of cooking, napping, watching football, playing games, taking walks and often spending time with those we don’t get to be around as often as we’d like. It can be a time of deep joy and laughter although as with most family gatherings I know, that doesn’t mean it is entirely absent the occasional tension.
Many extended families used to gather every Sunday night at a grandparent’s home and the telling of stories both old and new was central to those gatherings, often rising to the level of art. Today, shared meals and opportunities for story telling are increasingly rare. Stories require not only tellers but good listeners. For stories to have room and value, we must be committed to being truly present to them and to their tellers. I am reminded of a passage on friendship from poet and author David Whyte, in his book Consolations:
The ultimate touchstone of a friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self, the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.
I encourage you this Thanksgiving to invest in drawing forth stories from those with whom you gather. Get curious about who each person is, what life has been like for them and what has formed the way they see the world today. Ask them about defining moments in their lives, who have been important mentors to them along the way and what they wish they had known that they had to learn the hard way. Be an active and engaged listener, allowing yourself to step into the world as they see it and have known it, recognizing it is by definition different from your own. Listening deeply and compassionately to the stories of others helps us to understand them better, and provides opportunities to learn and grow from their experiences.
It is also quite possible this holiday week is leaving you feeling lonely, whether you are alone or with others. You may be painfully aware of someone’s absence and a heaviness in your heart, knowing you are trying to celebrate with sorrow draped over your shoulders. If so, I encourage you to take the time to enter into your shared stories as well. Whether on your own or with others, take the time to go back through your memories with care and intention, truly savoring them. Sometimes I think we race past memories rather than entering into them fully, allowing ourselves to recall sound and smell and taste and to feel all that they held that first time.
As this long weekend concludes, we will enter into Advent. Once again we will spend the next year hearing the stories of our spiritual family, this time primarily through the lens of Matthew and his community of Jesus followers. When we take the time to enter in to the stories of the bible, we hear how those who have gone before have made meaning of the stories they inherited and integrated them with their own life experiences. I hope this year we can enter into those stories in a new way as well.
I hope you will have the opportunity to see the essence of another, and to allow yourself to be seen. If you do cultivate and hear stories throughout this weekend, I hope that you will take a moment to capture some of them either through a recording or by writing down what you remember. I would love to hear them!
Happy Thanksgiving. I am grateful for you. And I hope to see you Sunday.