By Matt Gordon
I drive. I park. I wait. I drive again. Arrive home. Unload a car full of groceries.
It was the epiphany of pandemic, a forcing function that allowed me to pick up groceries for my family. Pull in empty; pull out full—food for days.
I am thankful for grocery pick-up in 2020. But grocery pick-up has made me aware of deeper gratitude in the way that grocery pick-up is life. Without lifting a hand, I am provided for. This, whether I’m humble enough to admit it or not, is the rhythm of life.
My grandparents met. I had nothing to do with it. I’m not sure if they lived near each other or met at some old-timey dance or a war rally or something. But they met and fell in love or, at very least, lust. My parents were the byproducts of their relationships. They, too, met on some university lawn in a time of revolution and ideas and radicalism. But for all the new things, the old things remained—love and the need for it. And sisters were the result. Then, eventually, me. I had nothing to do with any of it.
I was born. I can’t even bear witness to the fact. My existence is all I have to deduce this as true—my mother and nurses and doctors did all the heavy lifting and pushing and breathing and sweating. And then there I presumably was. Hungry. But I ate thanks to someone else. Tired, and I was put to sleep with some measure of care. I breathed full the oxygen of life, with lungs I had nothing to do with.
My sisters came about similarly. As did my teachers. My mentors. My guides. I didn’t choose my school or the books that populated our home. I didn’t decide my wellness in healthy seasons, any more than one actively chooses sickness. Nope, it was all bestowed. The trunk was just filled.
In 2020, I’ve clung to all this. I have a job! The thought alone is blissful. But then go a thought further—how many cosmic wonders occurred to land me here? Any here, really. One recruiter taking a day off, one wrong word in one interview, one poor decision along the way could have led to the undoing of this particular vocation. But deeper and further and truer, how many other millions of things happened along the way? How many grandparents had to meet; how many parents; how many siblings born; how many of the right books present or the wrong ones absent?
Everything has felt out of control this year, a reminder that everything always is and has been out of my control. Sure, I contribute to my life and have freewill and choice and all these merit badge things I’m so proud of, but my existence, when boiled down, is an enigma of luck. I stand upon the lone planet we know of that sustains the precise type of elements required for our precise type of being, and I marvel. The air enters lungs again and again; the groceries are repeatedly loaded.
It is a precious brand of luck—or it is something much, much more, and something much more precious?
If there is a guiding force to all this, I am not thankful that it made me who I am and put me in some privileged time and place. Sure: one need not lament central heating and cooling and good food. I am happy for what has been made to make my life easier. But it is a less specific and perhaps more important brand of gratitude that joyously gapes at the idea that anything has been made at all. That I am or that you are. That we are. That this is. That we live and move and breathe. That we can go about waging war on a disease because we agree that better is better, that life is good, that existence is a beauteous thing, without even bearing witness to the particulars.
At home I unload the food I did not farm or package or manufacture. I load it into a pantry I did not build. Using eyes and hands I do not willfully make work, breathing air freely provided. It smells like life. The building blocks of gratitude are that we can fathom gratitude at all—that we can fathom anything at all. That we can fathom at all.
Tonight we’ll prepare the food we brought home today. Paid for with money we earned for doing tasks we were able to do. We’ll sit around a table—a thing done in some form since the beginning. In that sacred community we will laugh and joke and eat. And we will share—always share—that which we are thankful for. And it will smell like life, the abounding love we’ve been invited to participate in. The life we’ve been given is our ticket into the deeper: an invite into love. Every meal is so much more. Each moment a hallowed reflection of something greater: we moons give off the light of an immense sun.
I drive. I park. I wait. I drive again. Arrive home. Unload a car full of groceries. But much and more is there to unpack. Much and more has been given us. Every day. Every moment. Much and more.