“The Hypnotized never lie”
– Pete Townshend “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. It has none of the trappings of the LSD-induced imagery of Christmas or the Meth-induced imagery of Halloween – let alone the opioid-induced imagery of chickens laying chocolate eggs you get at Easter.
It’s just a time home with friends, family and those who matter. If you can watch football without feeling guilty about the head injuries or angry someone is or isn’t taking a knee, then you’ve got the makings of a great extended weekend enjoying those you love.
Losing a loved one at this time is bitter and remembering them becomes bittersweet.
But I’ve always found Thanksgiving to be the most heartfelt time to remember those we’ve lost and to enjoy those still with us. It is a time to celebrate our shared experiences and to remember the things that divide us are not as consequential as those which bind us together.
For life is shorter than most of us want, and the pain we inflict upon each other is far and away the single largest challenge we face in our limited time on this planet – whether life or pain be by chance or design.
A few weeks ago while talking to one of my brilliant, yet often thick, progeny I informed him how much his mother and I wished to see him because – after all life is short. “Hey, but you’re okay, don’t be dramatic,” was the retort. He didn’t get it.
Then this week my youngest son lost a very dear friend who grew up in our neighborhood. David Newell was the kid you loved to have visit your house – or loved to coach in a sport. He had a perpetual smile that was infectious for the other kids around him.
He reminded me of a happy puppy dog – taking everything that came and always eager for more – whatever it was. When he was about nine he played football for me – despite his mother’s deep concerns he’d break an arm. Like most mothers she had a sixth sense about these things.
On one play during a game toward the end of the season he rushed the opposing quarterback and got in a good lick – it is debatable whether or not he needed to deliver the blow, but it isn’t debatable what happened – he broke his arm on the play.
I found him flat on his back, I expected to see him writhing in pain when I got out on the field. But he was just smiling. “I made the hit coach,” he said with an eager smile. I noticed there was a bone sticking askew under his skin and quickly called for his father who came over on the field. The referee was now with us, shaking his head and I took his father aside to let him know he should probably get his son to the doctor. "I'd probably be crying if I broke my arm," David told his dad. I remember David leaving the field with a grin and his good arm around his father - father and son sharing a moment even though David had to be in pain.
I know he had to be in pain because he had to have surgery on his arm. Screws were used to mend the bones and it gave David a scar he proudly displayed ever after.
Last week, David – now a college senior – was driving his moped near his South Carolina campus when he got rear ended by an alleged drunk driver in a pickup truck. David didn't survive.
He was a month older than my youngest son – and if that doesn’t give you cause to take a pause and thank God for this day and make you want to hold your loved ones close to you, then I doubt anything can penetrate whatever walls you’ve erected in your mental edifice you call life.
Besides the desire to hug my children, for me losing someone who spent years along side my kids as they grew up drives home much more than losing a son or daughter – every parent’s worst nightmare – it drives home how much we invent problems and put them in our way so we have little happiness in life.
We categorize ourselves, we greedily divide and attack ourselves over the most superficial and ridiculous reasons. We get sidetracked by life and forget to tell those we love how much they mean to us - until a life altering event shakes us to the foundation.
On the day of the Martin Luther King assassination, Bobby Kennedy told a crowd in Indianapolis, “Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.”
Rarely do any of us do this to any great extent. Lost in our own heads, we simply lose the ability to be thankful without being dreadful.
All of us will die – but how many will live like David – happy, inquisitive, fun and when he visited our house as a young man – always polite and respectful?
How many of us, in other words enjoy our lives?
Parents should teach their children, but the children also teach the parents – kids usually love others naturally – and only learn hate later. To the credit of his parents, I never knew David to hate anything or anyone. I can't say I ever saw him act in a belittling fashion to anyone he interacted with when I was around. I'm sure his sisters and parents saw sides to him none of us ever saw, but that's typical.
What was atypical in my experience was David's joy of life.
With all the strife, anger, hatred and divisiveness in the world, each Thanksgiving I think of how hope still lives, even as those close to us die – how our world could change on a dime if we but respected one another.
It may cause you to weep, but I’m still thankful for hope.
And I will never give that up. David Newell helped teach me that lesson yet again when he was a kid.
Don’t let the hate hypnotize you. Don’t get fooled again.