Sunday, November 24, 2013

Hanging With Old Coats at Thanksgiving!


I love this time of the Year!

There is a rhythm to the school year, where November and the upcoming holidays seem to be placed at just the right time. Time to back away from the intense work pace of school life, release fully into family and friends, grab onto the changing seasons and take a bit of a breath.

As someone who has defined himself as a teacher, and these days a public speaker, there is a favorite graphic I often use to start my seminars this time of the year. It always gets a good laugh because of its understood truth by everyone who spends his or her life’s work, in the crazy profession of education.

The “study” (from the Department of Education (DOE) back in 1993) still rings true today, does it not? It is as if the Thanksgiving Holiday comes just in time to help us through that potential disillusion stage!

I grew up in the Midwest and there is a weather shift that comes with the holiday season. It gets much colder and our favorite winter coats get worn once again. Thanksgiving day is a lot like that too. Family members and friends show up, and in some ways get worn once again, as we sit around the table and share, and laugh, and cry and hope and maybe even dream.

Oscar Wilde says that "Ultimately the bond of all companionship, whether in marriage or in friendship, is conversation."

Over the years, some of my best memories at Thanksgiving were based on conversations around the table. It all started as a child growing up. We would be at my Aunt Dottie’s house (I think it was my uncle Al’s house too, but somehow it seemed to be her house to me) and I would wake up at 5:30 am to the smell of coffee, bacon, and breakfast being made. I would sneak into the kitchen, and there would be my Aunt cooking away and getting ready for the day.

The best part though was the way the two of us would sit down and just talk at her kitchen table. No one else was up yet, and I had her wisdom all to myself. I loved those quiet, meaningful conversations with her. And I sought them out every Thanksgiving for as long as I can remember.

Much older now, that tradition continues each year with our kids as best we can. A few years back, our oldest daughter sat with me during an early early morning coffee at our Thanksgiving day table, as we shared stories of our work (we are both educators and the stuff of her life and mine overlap quite a bit). I love and live for those conversations. 

More recently, at an early morning table, our son and I had a serious conversation about his commitment to become engaged and get married. It was one of so many conversations we have had that have meant more to me than he can know.

And just yesterday, over coffee our youngest daughter and I sat at a table and talked about her next steps and hope and dreams for college. Life, and time marches on. Somehow, the Thanksgiving table brings those old friends, those old coats back together and slows us down just long enough to engage in that “bond of companionship – conversation.”

This past summer, a favorite thought leader of mine (John Ortberg) quoted this verse from Victor Hugo: "My coat and I live comfortably together. It has assumed all my wrinkles, does not hurt me anywhere, has moulded itself on my deformities, and is complacent to all my movements, and I only feel its presence because it keeps me warm. Old coats and old friends are the same thing." 

Who is your old coat? Celebrate with them this Thanksgiving if you can.

I have had 40 such Thanksgivings now, since my first year in the trenches so to speak at Stillman Valley High School, in 1973. Not every Thanksgiving has been joy, there has been sadness at missing those that are no longer at the table, and there has been disjointedness as family circumstances change who is at the table. Kids grow older and lots of demands are placed on where everyone wants or needs to be. Sometimes the coats, the friends change.

I have always found the joy in those early morning conversations around our table…none more so than with the person who was willing to take me on and wear me as her old coat. There is not enough thanks I can give for that commitment. It reaches beyond my own understanding. 

I wish the same for you this Thanksgiving - time and conversations with your old coats. Wherever that table may be, whatever time of the day it might be, whoever that old friend and old coat may be, and whatever that conversation needs to be.

Happy Thanksgiving!


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