Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

November 24, 2009

Succotash

When I was little, on Thanksgiving Day, my Mom used to make us put a couple of kernels of succotash next to our plates to remind us of how little the Pilgrims had and how grateful they were for it.  It was also to remind us how the Pilgrims and Indians helped each other and, also, to represent what we were personally thankful for.

Thanksgiving has always been a favorite of mine.  Moreso back when Michigan used to win more of those clashes with Ohio State…And moreso when I used to awaken to the smell of fresh pumpkin muffins hot out of the oven.  We’d eat them while watching the parade from Detroit and then my Mom would warn us all, “OK, now out of the kitchen until dinner.”

Thanksgivings at the Swansons… There was the one when all of the relatives got so blotto that they forgot to serve dinner.  They opened the oven door and stood around the roasting pan of dried up turkey, laughing and pulling off pieces to eat.

Then there was the year my Great Aunt’s dog, Cinder Lou, jumped up on the table and started mowing down the turkey right off the platter.  And the time we went to my aunt and uncle’s and it wasn’t until 5pm that we realized she had cooked the turkey all day without turning on the oven.  Or that one year my Mom cried because my brothers were out of state, eating Arby’s roast beef sandwiches.  That broke her heart… 

One of my favorites was that first year I was injured when, despite the burned rolls and limited menu and screaming headache, I realized that I COULD do the things I wanted to do, even with a brain injury.

And, of course, there was that Thanksgiving Day two years ago when my Dad died…

Holidays are a lot like life, I think.  Snapshots of life all crunched and schmushed into one day.  We fantasize about holidays like we do our lives.  We imagine and hope that the Lions will win, that everyone will get along, that our homes will be filled with lovely decorations, great food, loving people, family and friends all singing around the piano, lots of warmth and laughter…

Perhaps, too, we imagine that maybe the spouse won’t drink too much this year.  Maybe that special someone will finally forgive and call.  Maybe the child won’t be so angry, so lost, so distant, so indifferent.  Maybe the Mother-in-law won’t be so critical and maybe the Uncle won’t be trying to touch the niece.

We dream and we hope.  Some of us pray.  And we scurry and we hurry and we exhaust ourselves shopping and cleaning and hiding all the piles of unpaid bills and hoping that you-know-who doesn’t look behind the shower curtain or peek in the bedrooms…

Like with life, perhaps we page through glossy magazines, fawning over Martha Stewart creations of  ideal.  Wine glasses perfectly lined up and shined up and spotless silver so clean you could check your lipstick in it.  Meticulously-folded linen napkins as elegant swans decorating each place setting.  Serving golden-brown turkeys in high heels and painted nails.

But too often holidays, and life, don’t live up to the magazine covers.  Martha Stewart goes to jail.  Biscuits get burned.  The turkey, for some reason, ends up dry.  The potatoes turn out like goopy paper mache.  The kids argue and your back is killing you before the company even gets there from all the cleaning you did…

Too often we end up wishing them away.  Wishing them over.  Happy when all of them finally leave or you can grab your coat and head for the door.  Lamenting the mess.  Lamenting the cost.  Disgusted by whatever whoever and whomever did or didn’t do.  Again.

Like life.

Too often after childhood, we don’t put as many kernels next to our place setting.  There are loved ones we miss, dreams long abandoned, relationships ruined.  Jobs, abilities, confidence, looks and retirements lost.  We gaze around the table and, too often, sadly realize that, were it not for our name, we would not even hang out with some of these people.  Everyone so different.  Strangers in familiar faces.  

I read a story today of a man who, 23 years ago, was severely injured in a vehicle accident and mistakenly diagnosed as being in a vegetative state.  In reality he was simply paralyzed, unable to express that he was alive in his mind and in his brain.

For 23 years he stayed mute in his prison.  He thought and he talked and he dreamed and he  pleaded and he listened and he screamed.  All in his head.  I cannot even begin to imagine…

All he wanted to do is what so many of us fail to or choose not to or refuse to.  He wanted to express.  To communicate.  To be heard.  To share what was on his mind, on his tongue, in his heart.

My hope this Thanksgiving is that maybe this holiday we’ll all take a little extra time.  To actually look each other in the eye.  Maybe we’ll actually FEEL grateful for the ability to smell that first waft of turkey, that first taste of stuffing, that first sight of pumpkin pie.  Maybe we’ll slow down just long enough to actually hug.  To kiss. To touch an arm.  Take a hand.  To look around the table, look around our homes and our lives and SEE ALL THERE IS to be grateful for.

I know that I am blessed with abilities and options and choices.  I know love and I love deeply.  I carry so many generous, humorous, selfless, amazing people in my heart whom I am so thankful for. 

I’m not going to take the chance to lose the chance…I’m not even going to wait for Thanksgiving to be grateful.  I’m going to be grateful right now, here, tonight.  For all of me.  For all of you.  For the roof over my head, the clothes on my back and the food in my belly.  For the music in my days and the dreams in my nights.  For the options every morning to choose what kind of day I’m going to have and what kind of person I’m going to be. 

I’m going to be grateful for every moment of love, of warmth, of laughter we’ve shared.  All the gifts, all the love, all the shoulders, all the support, all the giggles you’ve given me. 

I wish for you, all of you, a great big mound of succotash this Thanksgiving.  Piled high aside your place setting.  Piled high inside your hearts.  May we all recognize our incredible bounties and fall asleep in warm beds while trying to count them… 

Happy, Happy Thanksgiving to you all.  Please, pass the succotash…

 

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