The month of November is typically a time for expressing gratitude and thankfulness. It’s a time when pre-holiday challenges help distract folks from their own lives to think about the difficulties of others. There are charity drives, food bank donation and volunteer opportunities, and themed events like No-Shave November where those who are able to grow facial hair raise money for cancer by not shaving for the entire month. It is also, curiously, a time of creativity. The annual NaNoWriMo challenge happens in November where budding and hobbyist writers are given a word count challenge and can even upload their manuscripts for perusal by publishers. There is also the annual #PrayerADay (this link will open Facebook) where folks write a prayer every day in November, encouraged to also create accompanying visual memes and share widely on social media.
I have never participated in No-Shave November or NaNoWriMo (I know, right?), but I have volunteered at many charity events through both time and treasure over the years. I did #PrayerADay in 2018 and 2019. And the past two years have left me focused heavily inward in my home life. Like all of us, the pandemic has me in a place of isolation from many of the activities and people I normally engaged this time of year. And stuff keeps happening to encourage this separation.
I found out a friend of mine died of COVID recently. He was 33 with no underlying health conditions, and he was vaccinated. He is not the first person I have lost to the virus, and he will likely not be the last. During these times when we are supposed to be surrounded by friends and family, their empty seats at the table are loud, screaming at me to say their names and remember their lives. I have a new name to speak over the table this year as I express the gratitude in my heart for the opportunity to have loved him.
Perspective has a way of allowing us to learn from things like as time passes. When an event is new, we are close to it, like standing in front of a single tree with our noses pressed into the bark, trying to find meaning. As time passes, we can see the entire trunk, and we notice the variations in the cracks and crevices. As more time passes, we can see the roots running along the ground and the branches of leaves overheard. And then we can see the beauty of the crown, branches waving lazily in the breeze and catching the light of the sun on the leaves. Eventually, we can see the entirety of the forest, see all the different trees in our lives—tall ones, short ones, thin ones, wide ones, ones full of leaves of every color, and ones with very little leaf coverage on top. Every one of them has a name and a story of how they have touched our lives. Every one of them reminds us of times in the past, both good and not as great, that have built the foundations of who we are as we stand here today.
May the gift of perspective be with you this year as you speak the names of those who would have occupied the chairs around your table and find peace within yourself.