Thanksgiving Eve: I am in Doctor’s Hospital in Coral Gables, Florida, pondering the mysteries of life. Alone, after midnight, I find myself stumbling down an empty hallway, looking for food, tired and confused. I don’t know how I got here. I’ve wandered into a part of the hospital that is brand new and not yet open. The hallway is empty, pristine. I slam into a door, trying to get out and find a more familiar part of the building, but the door is locked.
You would think after spending most of five days in the same building I would know my way around, but windowless hallways are disorienting to the sleep-deprived and vulnerable. I can tell, because I keep meeting the same groups of other sleep-deprived, vulnerable family members wandering the same halls.
I am here because my wife Kathi needed emergency surgery to repair her hip. Thankfully, my brother Dave and his wife Michelle live nearby, so we have the loving support of family. I spend most of my time in the hospital, with occasional trips over to Dave and Michelle’s for a shower, coffee, food, beer, and company.
Unscheduled events like the one that landed us in this hospital are more disorienting than simply getting lost in a building. One moment I was striving to finish my life’s to-do list, like always. The next thing I knew all those goals were set aside and I was living at a hospital, trying to learn a whole new language and strategy.
Most days we act as though we are in control and know what’s going to happen next. We tell ourselves and others stories to explain this crazy life, when the truth is we don’t have a clue what’s coming, good or bad.
There is clarity in moments like this one. We are forced to pause, to think, to listen, and maybe even to consider what’s really important.
Some people don’t have a lot to be thankful for this year. Some of them are right here in this hospital. The hospital I would have preferred we not be in. Others are in a war zone far from here, or on the streets, or alone in their apartments.
For the last few days I felt a little like that—a wounded soldier, an orphan, a prisoner. Only that isn’t how this story goes.
Hospital or no, I have a lot to be thankful for: the extraordinary woman who is my wife; my amazing children; my loving brothers and sister and sisters by marriage; my wider family that includes my friends; a lifetime of experience and memories; the breath in my body.
When I am really thankful—when the belief that I am in control of the future is shown to be make-believe— the fear that drives the obsession with control recedes in importance, like a game I don’t want to play anymore. I am in awe of the amazing people who have touched my life, changing me forever. Through them I am connected to a multitude around the world and across generations.
I give thanks for life itself, for what is beyond my ability to understand, and I accept the unraveling of all my logical systems and beliefs; the disassembling of me, my schemes and religion and science and philosophy. Tomorrow we may fall off a cliff and break bones; tomorrow we may land in our family and friends’ loving embrace. Or both.
I remember the wounded soldier, the orphan, the prisoner. Standing here in this hospital hallway—alone—with everyone— I give thanks for life, for being given the opportunity to try, for failure, illusion, hope, and faith. And I give thanks for love, the greatest mystery of all.