From Sympathy There’s Gratitude

It’s Thanksgiving here in Canada and there is so much to be grateful for. But with all the awful things—the violence, the tumultuous and surreal (I mean, can you even believe this has been allowed to go on this long?) political climate, not to mention the unnerving actual climate, it feels like we have to squint to see the good. But it’s there. 

I’ve been watching it fill my Facebook feed. It feels right and affirming to see all the happy today. 

But then I looked out my window and saw the saddest thing. It literally squeezed the air out of my lungs and made me dizzy with sympathy. 

My family room window faces my neighbour’s kitchen window. We didn’t have blinds for a few months when we first moved in here thirteen years ago, so our poor neighbours were likely privy to way too much Thornbury in various states of undress.

Tall trees, a substantial generation gap, and a language barrier prevented us from becoming close with our neighbours. But they’ve always smiled and said hello over the fence whenever we’re both out in our yards. And they happily throw back the balls and frisbees that ended up underneath (or in) their fruit trees. 

I know them more by their habits. They travel for several months every spring. Back to Croatia I think. 

They doted on their black and white cat who would often sun himself on our back deck until one day, we didn’t see him anymore. 

Animal lovers, they leave baked goods out on their porch. Ever see a squirrel run past carrying a whole bagel in it’s mouth or a hamburger bun bigger than its head? It’s amusing. 

We heard the sound of dishes clanking and happy chatter in the kitchen when their kids and grandkids came to visit. Which wasn’t very often. 

You could set your clock by their lunch time ritual. The same time every day—noon, husband and wife at the kitchen table eating lunch together. 

I didn’t mean to spy, but a pattern develops after a decade or so and you can’t help but notice. 

It felt good to see a couple married so long, enjoying each other’s company so completely. They set the table with china and cloth napkins—as though they were expecting company, when in fact, theirs was the only company they needed.

This spring my husband made the first observation. “Hey, I haven’t seen the husband around for while,” as he nodded his head over the fence. “Have you?” 

I hadn’t. 

By summer we knew for sure. Their cherry tree was heavy with fruit, but for the first time in over ten seasons, they were left unpicked, save for the birds.

He was gone. 

Today when I saw her through the window, sitting in her usual place at the table eating lunch at noon sharp, his chair empty, it caught me off guard. 

It’s Thanksgiving. Families are together eating and celebrating and giving thanks. 

But here she is, alone at the table. And I’m trying to see the good. Maybe the idea that life goes on or there’s comfort in routine? But honestly, I don’t see the good in this. I just feel sad. And I feel tremendous sympathy.  

But from sympathy, I also feel gratitude—for all that I have and for the relationships in my life. 

And maybe that’s the good. 

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