Look for the wonder. Repeat.

December 3rd, 2021

(published in The Daily Memphian, November 26, 2021)

When he was single, our son used to bring a can of cranberry sauce as his contribution to Thanksgiving dinner. A can. That, and the grief he caught for it, was funny the first year, even funnier the next, and came to be expected after that.

I’m thankful that so many of you request this column this time of year because it’s one of my favorites, too. I promise to keep updating it a bit, so it won’t feel canned.

By the way, he didn’t bring cranberry sauce this year. He brought a whole family – his wife Courtney and our three grandkids. Since we were the guests of Courtney’s extended family, you might say he brought us.

Gathered again for Thanksgiving, this time with four generations, I’m again reminded of, well, of everything. Most of all, I’m reminded of loss and of renewal, and I’m still surprised at the wonder of it.

While I was out of town last week, it happened again.

Right outside my window is a ginkgo tree, and another on the other side of the house. Every fall they engage in an ancient mating dance, a spectacular competition for attention. So exhausting is the effort, it doesn’t last long. So intense is the result, it’s explosive. And then it’s gone, leaving only a memory.

One morning they’re both green, a bit less green by afternoon. Overnight, they turn. The next morning, they shed light, a brilliant yellow so bright it shines through window shades and burns off gloom, a yellow that turns every other yellow green.

And the next day, it seems, it’s all gone. Their leaves fall as one, leaving the host naked and alone, covering the patio and everything on it with their loss.

“Watch your step out there,” Nora said, “the dogs just left a message in the ginkgo leaves, and I got it.”

So it goes. One day, it’s all beautiful. The next day, it all turns to crap. Or maybe that’s not the message at all.

My family has been visited by death, near death and deadly threat, by deceit and heartbreak, by cancer in varying form, by Alzheimer’s and plain old dementia, by diabetes, alcoholism, kidney disease and kidney stones, emphysema, bankruptcy, divorce, blown dreams and blue toe, broken bones and torn muscles, curved spines and crooked deals, neuropathy and apathy, stupid mistakes and senseless loss, rejection and reflux, gum disease, blood disease and general disease.

And I’m due for a check-up.

But we’ve also been visited by each other, by shared experience and gained appreciation, by children and grandchildren, by a lot of friends and a lot of delightful silliness, by unforgettable moments and uncontrolled laughter, by faith and hope, and love. And by waking up today.

We’ve been visited by the privilege of life, the gift of perception, and the opportunity of choice.

“I planted them,” Nora said, “out in the courtyard where they’ll get plenty of sun.”

She was referring to a gift from some new friends, Grace and Ralph Hobbs. When we drove up the curving drive to their home in Selma last week, we stopped to smell not the proverbial roses but the ginger lilies. Even in November, they were still in bloom by the drive. Even in the face of life’s challenges, the sight and smell of that bloom will refresh senses and lift spirits.

We mentioned how lovely they were to our hosts. The next morning as we were leaving our hotel, we were presented with four of those ginger lilies to take home.

A sweet surprise.

Ginkgo trees are regarded as living fossils, literally writing their history in stone dating back almost 300 million years. And they’ve done that dance every year a billion times around the world, and right outside my window. To see the wonder of it, I only need to look.

Ginger lilies are from the genus Hedychium – a name derived from ancient Greek words for sweet and snow – a fragrance and white bloom that will grace our courtyard come spring. For the wonder if it, I’ll only need to open my eyes and breathe in.

Ginkgo trees and ginger lilies don’t leave you with a memory; they leave you with the promise of their return. In that return, we are renewed.

So here we are at another Thanksgiving, and the feast is life and love and the sharing of it with those here, those before, and those to come. I’ll have another helping, thank you.

Wonder is dessert.

I’m a Memphian, and I’m truly thankful.

Ginger Lily


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