Last weekend, my husband and I slipped into the back row of a Thanksgiving chapel service at the boarding school our daughters attend. Hundreds of students loudly filled the underground stone chapel, the boys in their coats and ties and the girls in their short dresses and sweaters. The kids had a hard time settling down: vacation began the next day! The air crackled with teenage energy. Only when the student choir began their quiet a capella hymn in Latin did the room begin to feel like a place of worship.
As part of the service, a teacher gave a presentation on his sabbatical. He and his wife had recently taken their three daughters on a two-month trip to the hinterlands of New Zealand. They had stayed in a variety of remote locations; sleeping arrangements and meals were highly variable. A slideshow accompanied his presentation, and some of the views were every bit as stunning as you’d expect: it’s Lord of the Rings country after all.
At the end of his presentation, he reflected on how the trip had brought their family closer. They had survived two months of intense togetherness in some challenging situations, improvising as they went along, and you could tell how proud he was.
He ended with tremendous gratitude for the chance to live this adventure, concluding with two provocative lines from a poem by Mary Oliver. I looked up the poem and share it with you today.
A Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
* * *
Pepper had been lounging close by, nosing me occasionally, getting a belly scratch or two while I wrote. “What do you think of the poem, Peps?” I asked.
She yawned. “Grasshoppers are just not very interesting. Now if a squirrel had been eating out of her hand, I would have liked that a lot. That would have been so smart to put sugar or maybe some seeds in her hand to attract a squirrel. Then she wouldn’t need to chase the squirrel. She could just grab it and shake it to death and eat it, but not the tail or head. She could leave those in the yard.”
“Pepper!” I exclaimed, horrified. “That’s awful! You’ve missed the point entirely!”
Peppy looked up at me with her deep brown eyes. “You might want to chase hobbits in New Zealand with your wild and precious life. I wouldn’t blame you! Me – I want to get a squirrel.” She smiled. “By the way, how’s that turkey coming along?”
What could I say? “Ouch -” (sheepishly)
“Don’t feel bad,” Pep said, rolling over for a belly scratch and doing her cutest curl, which she knows I can’t resist. “Come be idle and blessed with me.”
* * *
Happy Thanksgiving! May your day be filled with gratitude for the past, attention to the present, and dreams for the future.
* * *
Thank you, Peter Hoopes of St. Andrew’s School in Delaware, for the inspiring Thanksgiving chapel message.