Wednesday, November 24, 2010

On Giving Thanks

I used to hate November. I disliked the dreariness, the heavy feeling of darkness so early in the evenings, the trees stripped bare. November and March left a bad taste in my mouth, but at least March had the promise of spring.

About 15 years ago, however, I realized how much I really love Thanksgiving. I have to say it's my favorite holiday. Thanksgiving has nothing to do with the expectations, the gifts that someone didn't like, the family Christmas gathering that wasn't exactly (or even close) to the Hallmark commercial. Thanksgiving was about well, thankfulness, first and foremost. Imagine that: the beauty of a day set aside to reflect and be grateful. Over time I've embraced everything about Thanksgiving with open arms -- the long walks we used to take in Forest Park before the meal, the hokeyness of the Macy's parade, the deliciousness of green bean casserole. Thanksgiving makes me smile.

How fitting it is that my little boy was born this time of year. He wasn't supposed to be. Ethan was due on December 13, just a few days before my birthday. "ANOTHER Christmas baby?" I had groaned (Dan's birthday is Dec. 22). But no, Ethan was a Thanksgiving baby. Thanksgiving was early the year he was born, but at some point his birthday will be on actual Thanksgiving.

My water broke with Ethan in the parking lot of Barnes & Noble. The November morning was partly cloudy and unseasonably warm. By the afternoon Dan and I were heading to Saint Frances, while my mom played with Anna in the leaves outside.

Dan and I argued about whether to name the baby Ethan or Jacob, if we had a boy (we were playing the guessing game, this time). Both names were so popular but it was all we could agree on. I liked Ethan ("firm, strong, steadfast," said the definition in the Baby Names book). In my room we watched reruns for hours, waiting for labor to hit. Day turned to night. November 27 turned to November 28, and then in the wee hours of the morning, we heard those words: "It's a...boy!" Ethan Daniel.

He was such a tiny, hunched little thing. He was so, so sleepy. Was it being 15 days early, or the jaundice, or something, anything to do with his eventual autism? He seemed so helpless, even more so than Anna at birth, if that makes any sense.

I didn't fall asleep until about 2 or 3am the night he was born, and woke up before sunrise. I remember getting up and looking out the window over the mostly sleeping city of Hartford. The sky was growing pink. A flock of birds soared overhead. There was a beauty in the stark silouhettes of maples, in the neighborhoods coming to life. November was beautiful. Somehow, for the first time I saw the beauty in the still and emptiness.

Thanksgiving is coming, Ethan's birthday is coming, and I am thankful. I am thankful for my little boy, for all of my family. I can't say I'm thankful for autism, but I am thankful for all it's brought me: an appreciation for the small things. An outright joy at every milestone reached. A newfound peserverance. A firsthand witness of God's provision. An ongoing lesson in unconditional love. And yes, even the revelation of ugly things within that needed and need to go. November can be beautiful, if we choose to see it that way. There are so many treasures we see when the leaves are gone, when summer is just a wisp of memory.

Thanksgiving is tomorrow. Ethan's birthday is in four days, and I'm giving thanks. I'm celebrating.

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