Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Good Stories

As we look ahead at this new year, 2008, it's almost inevitable that, 364 days from today, my wife and I will not be missing at least one more of our parents. What I'm saying is, there almost has to be a funeral in our lives this year, an important one.

Today--this morning--is the coldest day of the winter. Just a year ago or so, we attended the funeral of an aunt on a day that was as cold as it was yesterday, and will be today--so cold, in fact, that the graveside service itself was simply not held. The crowd of folks attending the funeral at the church was predominantly elderly, so the funeral director, the preacher, the children (I'm not sure who makes a decision like that) decided simply to forgo the litany over the grave.

We went out there anyway, led by the hearse, and the pallbearers carried the casket to the gravesite while we all stayed in the phlanx of cars that had cracked along slowly on snowy streets all the way out there. One woman--a sister of the deceased--decided she simply couldn't sit through it, so she walked out to the casket and took a flower from a bouquet that must have been rapidly wilting in the sub-zero temperatures. She walked out to the casket with the help of one of her children, took a flower from the bundle, stood there for one treasured moment, then was kindly helped back to the car. She simply had to say goodbye, I guess.

That picture ranked as one of the most precious I saw during all 0f last year, and it's become a memory with legs. It came back to me yesterday, unbidden, simply because the wind-chilled temperatures flattened out at the bottom of the thermometer. Even the deathly cold wouldn't stop that woman's sister from saying goodbye. I won't forget that moment, I guess.

We skipped the Obama campaign stop yesterday, even though I would have liked to go. It was really, really cold--too cold to spend two hours on the road just to say we were there. It's Iowa Caucus time in our neighborhood, and Presidential candidates are never more than a street or two away, it seems. Somebody's going to be here today, I saw on the TV last night--John McCain, I think?--twenty minutes or so in Casey's Bakery. Out here in Iowa we don't make the spotlight all that often, so it's kind of fun. When we returned from Wisconsin, our phone had eight messages--all of them political. It's Caucus time in Iowa.

I've mentioned before what a downer it was a couple of weeks ago to sit beside two retired, former colleagues, both of them blessed with good, sharp minds, and hear them go on and on about how blasted dark the election looked. We were in church, at a wonderful supper served up deliciously by a couple from our church--new Mexican members. No matter--in the presence of those two curmudgeons, I could have felt more warmth in the back 40. They're both Republicans, of course, and of the stripe who are simply not excited this year because none of the candidates quite tickle their fancies like George W once did. You'd think they would have learned.

But one of those calls on our phone was from a young lady who lives just down the block and is also a member of our church, a high school kid who urged me--and us--to attend the Obama rally yesterday. She's a precinct captain, I think, and she reports to an Obama lieutenant somewhere in Sioux City just about every night, after tallying the calls and, presumably, the votes. She can't even be 18, that young lady, and she may not even be old enough to vote in this year's November election. But she's already stumping; she's calling people, sticking a finger in their ribs, trying to get 'em going. She makes me smile.

Just about a year ago we watched an elderly sister walk out to a casket alone on a steely cold day at the Orange City cemetery, in the face of a frigid wind that was itself a killer. She couldn't just sit in the car. She had to say goodbye.

And this year, I've got the voice of a neighbor girl, not even 18 and already out on these cold streets drumming up business for Obama. That young lady's voice on our phone -- especially in the unpleasant shadow of those two old farts at a church supper -- that voice, her idealism, ushers in hope on this cold January morning, hope that I'll need in ready supply throughout this new year, 2008, a year that will, almost inevitably, not be easy.

But then, I'm not sure any of them are. Thank goodness for the good stories.

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