Every night at dinner, before the first bite goes into anyone’s mouth, each of us names something we’re thankful for. It’s our version of grace. We started the practice a few years ago. Unlike the idea that the one who drinks the last of the milk carries the empty carton to the milk box, this one stuck.
On a recent evening, Tess goes first.
“I’m thankful that ‘Spring Awakening’ is coming to Denver.” An 8th grade theatre major at Denver School of the Arts, Tess aspires to be a professional actress some day and if that doesn’t happen, a crime scene investigator, an orthodontist or a lawyer. In that order.
“I’m thankful for another hairdresser,” says Tony, “even though today was her first day and she won’t be back until the end of October.” With the addition of a very pregnant Erin, Tonto Salon is officially at capacity since Tony opened the business in July 2007. Hallelujah. One by one they come.
“I’m thankful I could go 25 miles an hour on my bike,” Pierce says, breaking into a grin. He and his dad rode home together after work, Pierce on the bike and Tony on the scooter. “I had no idea I could go that fast.” Son against father, side by side.
“I will be thankful when Wednesday is over,” Ali types. She’s “nervous but mostly excited” about her arrangements for the Physically Handicapped Actors & Musical Artists League to do a performance at her alma mater next week.
That leaves me. “I’m thankful for courage.”
From across the table, Tony cocks his head, waiting for more but the fifth and final voice signals the start of the meal. The kids know they are free to help themselves. Besides, we’re all starving.
I slice a chicken breast in half and cut the meat into bite-size cubes for Ali. “These could be the last of the summer,” I comment as the bowl of roasted green beans comes my way. No one nibbles on courage.
We try a few topics before landing on Tess’s struggle with algebra and a first-year ex-bassoonist math teacher who’s passing out D’s and F’s like hall passes to the restroom. “We’re all failing,” says Tess. Tony and I listen to her explanation for why last week’s D has dropped to an F, trying to distill substance from the “likes” and “totally’s” in the lingo of a 13-year-old female in modern America.
What about courage?
It’s here, in the lives of the people who sit with me at the dinner table every night, who love my cooking, clean their plates and balk at nothing I put before them.
Courage to admit her first failing grade, ever, to the people she most wants to please. Courage to deflect the sarcasm of a teacher she doesn’t like and protect her tender, strong-as-an-ox adolescent heart.
Courage to start a business and to work seven days a week for a year to get it on its feet. To create the space, hire the employees, find the hairdressers, keep his clients happy, do the paperwork, let some people go and welcome others.
Courage to pedal as fast as he can, to hang in and not wimp out on the hill at Forest, heart pounding in his young man’s chest, showing his dad and proving to himself that he can power his muscles on the straightaway to go as fast as the motor in a 50 cc Kymco Sting.
Courage to talk with the principal of her former high school about a troop of actors with disabilities, some like hers. This talking happens on a sophisticated device with a digitized voice. Her brand of courage makes people sit up straight and abandon their excuses, forgive themselves their shortcomings and believe that so much more is possible.
And I who uttered the word?
Writing takes courage. Sticking with it, creating the opening that allows the work to happen. Courage to get out of bed at 5:30 and sit with a cup of hot tea, notebook open, hand moving, ready to receive. And when nothing but dribble comes, courage to do it again the next day.
Courage: the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.
Pass the last of those roasted green beans, please.