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  • David Carlson

620 There is something sacred in this circle that calls to us from our history, our joys, our fears.

Day 620, Thursday November 25, 2021 Thanksgiving

As nature lets go of all but the essentials, our relationship to each other often deepens. When we gather around the Thanksgiving table it is very different from our Fourth of July picnic. There is something sacred in this circle that calls to us from our history, our joys, our fears.

Living apart from those we love makes these times we come together a reverent moment for me. I want to touch people and listen to their voices. I know there is a facet of the sacred in every person in the room. And it is right, as Quakers put it, that we quietly hold each other in the light.

Older people, like myself, seem to take late autumn seriously. As the trees become bare or the garden dies away we sense an ending. Poets, standing in late autumn’s emptiness, sometimes reflect on how long the road through life has been. I am one of those who takes any excuse to keep from glancing back down that long road. Why? Because I find it a very lonely task to focus on the whole of my life. But the time comes when I must look at it.

For me the authentic look down the road came once following a routine question from a young nurse in my doctor’s office. She asked what brought me there. My answer involved a word not used in the polite circles of my childhood but one with which I had grown comfortable following my prostate cancer — “urinating.” Not a technically difficult word to use. However, this time I said “urination” followed by a couple of stumbles and coughs and then “urinization.”

An unlikely word for an epiphany, but in that instant the long road was wide open from childhood to this medical office. Verbal delivery had always been one of my gifts — in school, church, choir, the lectern, the courtroom, inspiring the friendly crowd, confronting the hostile crowd. I could see all those many moments on that road — the beginnings and now the end.

My gift was wearing out. In the hours that followed I examined my road many times. All the milestones of my life were worn down. Then who am I? Are these not in large part what defines me as a person?

Oddly, the awareness of my losses did not bring me to a doleful state. At some point a grace was given to view my life in a different way. I discovered newer milestones on the other side of the road. It started with noticing a butterfly outside the consulting room window. I did not give much thought to butterflies until I was past 50. Now I am mesmerized at the sight of one. A thought is left hanging as I follow the path of a Monarch onto a flower.

This gift is not wearing out but just reaching maturity! Then I thought of my relationship to people I love, to the universe, to the Divine. Here again, I am just getting the hang of it. There is a softening in how I live my life. The commonness I share with others is more apparent to me. What does all this mean? It will be interesting to find out as I follow fresh milestones.

There is a kinship to the leafless trees in the grey days of late November. Perhaps I should have joined those writing Confessions of a Tree Hugger books. Back in the wild and troubling late 1960s, a group of us would regularly hike into the woods for a “happening”. Each would find a tree. We would feel the tree. As the facilitator, I would sing out, “Get to know your tree!” And later, “Let your tree get to know you!” We always ended by sitting and leaning on the tree. Was there prayer going on? I think so.

Years later, I could think back and compare it to resting in the hands of God. Well, maybe you had to be there to sense it was anything but weird! I recall telling the tree my problems. I still do that. All the things which concern me are simply easier to handle in this setting of trees lacking their leafy finery. It has to do with not feeling alone. The woods seem alive in the low afternoon light. And there are always surprises.

Between the forest and our house is a persimmon tree. The leaves have dropped but reddish-gold fruit hangs from the bare branches. Ours is an Asian persimmon whose ancestors took centuries to reach California. American cousins of our tree could be found everywhere East of the Mississippi. When pioneers moved West they brought with them a love of persimmon pudding — a fondness our family shares. From time to time one of us goes to this bright spot in our grey landscape and returns with a basket of orange-red fruit. Soon the smell of old-fashioned pudding fills the air.

It is not much to look at, brown and simple, but it is a most authentic dessert. In the evening we take pleasure in sitting before the fire nestling our bowls of warm pudding. And, outside there is the moon shining through the bare limbs of familiar trees. If we listen we may even hear the sound of a few late-traveling geese.

- This Reflection is from Brother Toby’s book SEASONS.

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