General CBF

Thanksgiving Reflections – 2012

The following post comes from CBF-endorsed chaplain Randy Parks.

Thomas Merton wrote that “all of life is ‘gift.'” At this Thanksgiving, more than most, the brevity of that saying hits home in our family. I live in Northwest New Jersey with my wife, Lori, and two young children, Jillian and Sean, and serve as chaplain for a community hospital, Newton Medical Center, part of the Atlantic Health System. We experienced, like many in our state and region, a very tense, scary night on October 28th when Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey and NYC. Although inland 50 miles (and undoubtably in much less danger than our fellow citizens along the Jersey Shore and Long Island), we waited out the storm from our darkened home  in what would become several hours of penetrating wind that brought up images of the Universal movie set “Twister.”

We were in the basement when the first tree hit our home and then our car in the driveway. In a surge of panic and anger, I scrambled out of the house and after a time, successfully backed the car out from the large tree, parked it behind a neighbor’s and ran back inside to the relief of my wife. As the wind picked up, our dog alerted us to the fact that someone was at the door: two neighbors (one a Homeland Security agent and former Marine) who had seen the tree fall on the house and wanted to see if we were OK (the tree, in fact, had ripped off part of our gutter and shorn off part of our roof). As the wind continued to thrash, my wife and daughter, numb and scared, climbed under the covers in bed, while my son and I tried to pretend nothing was too frightening by watching a war fantasy. Then, a crackle, more crackle, and yet more – four more trees would come down outside the front of the house, hitting the car a second time and sending all of us running to the basement. Needless to say, the war fantasy was “trashed” in favor of an animated comedy. The dog never did successfully make it to the backyard for business that night, and we all, eventually sensing that the worst was over, wearily retreated to sleep to wait it out in the dark until morning to see the destruction that Sandy had wrought.

The new day brought neighbors slowly creeping out of their homes to witness what seemed to some of us a war zone. On-the-block “chain saw and work crews” headed up by our Homeland Security neighbor quickly organized into teams for clearing the road, digging cars out and removing them from tops of roofs, and testing downed wires for safety. Our neighbor, Kelly, who had a propane stove, was the real hero: She brought out that first cup of coffee on that memorable first morning. Neighbors – some we knew and some we had never seen – literally came out of the woods that day and over the next week to help restore wires ripped out of the electric box, cut and remove brush, and give general support and encouragement. We spent several days with a church custodian whose power had been restored, sent our kids and our assortment of reptiles and amphibian pets to various friends, lived on comfortable basement couches of others, showered at work, accepting meals willingly, and found a place within to grow more humble hearts while living without electricity and heat for a week. While taking the kids trick or treating (Halloween was moved to November 5th in New Jersey) in a neighborhood that had been restored with power, we got the word that our house, too, was finally with light and heat.

The next day – amid tears that I had not predicted – I began thanking friends who had done little and small things – that meal, that giving up of a bedroom, that asking my son to be with his friends for trick or treating. The next day as we went to vote in the national election, I thought of so many who had helped us who were at the opposite end of the political spectrum than my wife and I, some who had vastly different religious/spiritual commitments than our own – my world got both bigger and smaller at the same time. Smaller in the sense that my “love thy neighbor” religious faith commitment became tangible – not just some “neighbor” out there, but literally the ones on my own block – I felt a new solidarity and intimacy with some of them, and a new heart-felt concern for many of them. My world got bigger in the sense that while I strongly value my deeply specific Christian beliefs and commitments, as well as my philosophical and political commitments, I saw in very real ways how God is so much bigger than I believe God to be and works through avenues and people that you may least expect it. The Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist, comes from the word for thanksgiving – God’s gifts, looking back over this Thanksgiving – has come this year – not from material comfort (though I now take them for granted a little less) but through trials and hardships that have opened my eyes and humbled my heart to the grace that comes from very tangible gifts like a shared meal, a hand of help, and a cup of joe on a cold, gray morning after.

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