by Jerry DeNuccio
The other morning I watched the sunlight bayonet through the leaves of the backyard elm. Brilliant blades of light, whitely radiant, and somehow, for some reason, I remembered that old monastic phrase, “vacare deo:” emptying oneself for God. I wanted to empty myself for that light. I wanted it to pierce me. I wanted to be a pane of glass through which it passed. I was thankful for that light.
A student once offered this evaluation of a literature class he had taken from me: “I did not like this class. I had to work too hard.” I was thankful for that student’s comment.
When the pain comes from the pinched sciatic nerve, when that tasering jolt of hurt spasms in my lumbar and travels, clamoring and saw-tooth-edged, down my right leg to gather around ankle and shin, I am pestled into writhing, tears-in-the-eyes, moan-out-loud immobility. Like Job, I am “smote,” want “to let the day perish wherein I was born,” feel the arrows of the Almighty within me,” “speak in anguish,” feel a “burden to myself.” But when that moment comes when the pain, just a little, barely perceptibly, loosens its hold, when its tide ebbs, when the promise of its surcease, when the redemption from its blowtorching agony begins, if I can steel myself and hold on, only hold on, I am thankful.
Like some confectionery conciliator, I bring together in sweet concord, in sugared harmony, in candied peace, the rival houses of Mars and Hershey. No doubt Poe is right: ours “is a world of sweets and sours.” And given that the sours all too often outnumber the sweets, I am thankful, in equal measure, for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and for M&Ms, in all the original’s subsequent mouth-not-hands-melting incarnations, except coconut.
The kitchen faucet, which I installed about ten years ago, was leaking from beneath the bonnet covering the hot water cartridge. I had made this fix before—a simple matter of replacing the cartridge O-rings—and, in fact, not two weeks before, I had replaced a spring and rubber seat to stop a persistent drip. I duly closed the shut-off valves under the sink, removed the bonnet and lock-down nut, and pulled out the cartridge. I heard a gurgle and a rushing sound. Suddenly, hot water geysered from the socket. I rechecked the shut-off valve: it was closed. I darted to the basement to close the water valve but could not budge it. Back upstairs and a panicked call to a local plumber who, leaving his lunch behind, arrived ten minutes later, closed the water valve, reinstalled the spring and rubber seat, and replaced the worn O-rings. To lessen my embarrassment, he assured me that the water valve was indeed very hard to turn, and that the hot water shut-off valve “was shot” and needed replacement. The fault lay in the mechanism, not the mechanic. Still, I was thankful for the humiliation. We need to be abashed periodically, if only as an aileron to prevent ourselves from rolling into a self-regarding spin, if only to feel that abrading scrape of uncertainty that forces us inward, makes us take stock of our often impenetrable self-reflexivity, if only to nudge us away from being a loiterer in the order of things. I am more thankful, however, for plumbers, especially ones willing to abridge their hard-earned lunch hour and still find the heart to attend to the fraying self-consciousness of a failed DIYer.
My dreams sometimes involve discovering hidden rooms in my house. Such dreams are sometimes interpreted to mean the dreamer’s potential has yet to be realized, that the complacent, self-containing shell of the dreamer’s life needs to be breached, that some new direction needs to be travelled, some errand into the wilderness undertaken. Such dreams symbolize our lives calling out for a greater share of us. I am thankful for these dreams. They tell me that, even six decades after my initial appearance on the planet, I am unfinished, unfinalized—maybe, even, unfinishable, unfinalizable.
I have a history that I do not know, will probably never know the conditions of my probability. I am a small story, a subplot, perhaps, embedded in a much larger story whose denouement stands veiled in mystery but whose plot is powered by the gifts of an existence and capacities I had no hand in creating. They were bestowed. How, or by whom, I do not know. As David Bentley Hart notes, “What lies most deeply within us also comes from impossibly far beyond us.” And though I do not know to whom or to what, for that I am profoundly thankful.