While the dead bird's roasting, my Thanksgiving goes something like this: I go to the airport to pick up my priest brother, David, from his pilgrimage to Fatima, where the Virgin Mary appeared to three children in 1917, and we're late for dinner. Uncle Jody (a 300 pound Mexican-Italian I've never seen without a flannel shirt, who drives a train and makes mind-blowing rigatoni) is getting lampooned by my Aunt Ria (the 90-pound sister of my mother who takes pride in firing people and threatens divorce weekly) for not covering his mouth when he coughs.
When we sit down to dinner, David begins his evangelizing. It's not that I outright don't believe, it's just that I don't quite believe. I mean, did the sun actually do somersaults in the sky? I love the story. 70,000 people (Catholics, agnostics, atheists) attested to the sun's dance. They were there. I wasn't. I wish I could have been and maybe then I'd believe. David talks about grace happening in places like airports, and I'm thinking, first of all, what actually is grace, and also, that I really liked the airport at Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky because of an unexpectedly delicious ice cream place they have there. That ice cream cone was about as close to grace as I may have ever come.
What I notice at dinner, is the lines on the faces of the people I love, and the way they listen. My dad doesn't stop eating. My mom tears up when David tells of the 80-year-old woman who shared an umbrella with him in the Portuguese rain. Ria, who has not gone to church in years, unblinkingly and skeptically digests David's stories. My 300-pound like-father-like-son cousin settles into a food coma, and Jody, flanneled, humbled, hacking into a napkin, stares at David transfixed. I wonder if anyone, besides David, truly believes in anything at this table.
Meanwhile, I notice words, the reduction of bird to bones, and all of these odd rituals that govern our hallowed holidays. What if my religion is the congregation of family? I believe in standards, and I hate when people say they don't judge or there are no mistakes. I live my life by trying to right the mistakes I've made, and my reactions are the repercussions of my judgments. I resent the disintegration of most of my generation into people without the checks and balances of some sense of morality. But I cannot find God. I guess the fact is that I don't know if I'm truly looking.
At the end of David's tales of traveling, Ria says, "All that, in one week? That was fast!"
And I say, "Fatima. More like Fastima."
No one hears me, but in my head, there's a mini version of me tilting her head from left-to-right left-to-right singing "plays-on-words, plays-on-words." If Carol were here, she'd have giggled. I completely miss David's miracle story while I'm rearranging the word Fatima into other combinations in my head. Mafia-t. What the Italian pilgrim wore to Portugal.
Here we all* are, around the same table. David: convinced of the grace of God, Mom: elated that we are all here no matter our differences, Dad: making pleased noises at his empty plate, my cousin: "What kinda pies you got?," Ria: who barely ate and is giving Jody the evil eye as he starts to talk about the last time he got stitches, Jody: who can't do a single thing right but cook, bless his heart, and me: more interested in puns and the odd congruence of a hod-podge family than beliefs or God-given grace. I wonder if people experience conversion even when they're complacent, or if, at the larger table, there's ever only one brother who knows what and who God truly is, and the rest of us just watch and eat, and lay down full but not entirely filled.
*Wish you were here, Michael :(