We travelled home the Saturday after Thanksgiving and unloaded mountains of stuff from our week in North Carolina. It’s a known fact that the smaller the person, the more items they require while traveling. Pack n’ plays, portable high chairs, diapers, an endless supply of wipes, a personal mattress for said pack n’ play, snacks, bibs, spoons and of course, clothes. Traveling to North Carolina in the fall requires every type of clothing imaginable because the weather is sporadic and always inconsistent with the weather app that I thoughtfully used as a guide while packing. Bags filed with short sleeves, pants, jackets, shorts, dresses, pajamas, vests, hats, mittens and multiple types of footwear piled on our living room floor as we unpacked the car. We came home to a refrigerator that had nothing in it except a Brita water filter and some butter. The pantry didn’t look much better. The next morning I scrounged through our pantry to feed our children breakfast and after the apple sauce pouches and dry Cheerios, I headed off to the grocery with my girls.
This grocery trip was the type where I had to get basically everything in the store. It was like the first time we moved into an apartment after we got married and I loaded my very first adult grocery cart with what seemed like a few hundred items to stock our kitchen. Usually I am a very organized grocery shopper. I make a weekly menu, find all the necessary recipes and list out my ingredients. I then write the food items together in groups based on where they will be in the store and what order I will shop for them. All the produce is listed first, followed by food found in the isles, then refrigerated and last frozen. This is my system. Call it type A or obsessive or drill sargent-y but my goal is to go to the grocery once per week for the full haul and a second time to restock on produce. Intentionality and productivity are the name of the game when it comes to the grocery list system. I’m also not a huge proponent of unnecessary lolly dottlying, dilly daddling or any such nonsense. Anyways, on this day, I had quickly jotted down the list during the apple sauce and Cheerios situation, which included lots of whining because there were no waffles and complaining over cups of water instead of milk. My list was unorganized and incomplete and I found myself running around the store, forgetting items, back tracking down isles several times and trying to do it all at warp speed so that my two little girls wouldn’t start melting down because of prolonged restraint in the shopping cart. For those of you who personally know Emma Grace, my darling middle child, the following will not surprise you. In the middle of this shopping extravaganza I turned around to see that she had grabbed a box of kleenex off the shelf and proceeded to rip it open and make small pieces of “snow, Mommy,” as she ever so cutely described, from the tissues inside. Poor Florida children, creating their own snow from anything they can get their hands on. This kind of stuff doesn’t usually fluster me, maybe because it happens rather frequently and I’m used to it or maybe because I know so deeply how quickly they could be gone and therefore don’t sweat the small stuff. So I just smiled and told her how silly she was and continued to let her make a complete mess in the bottom of the shopping cart. Don’t worry, I cleaned it up and paid for the tissue box as we left.
During this entire scenario with the rushing and forgetting and the tissue snow, I overheard a conversation at the end of the isle. It was between an employee and a shopper. It was obviously a frequent shopper because the employee knew him by name and stopped to chat. “How was your Thanksgiving?” she asked, as he was placing a few items into his basket. “Oh, I don’t celebrate it,” he muttered in a deep voice. I imagine this employee was regretting that she engaged in this conversation, however it would have been rude to stop there, so she was now fully invested. I was intrigued and will admit to acting interested in the ingredients in canned soup so that I could hear the rest of this conversation. “You don’t?” the employee asked hesitantly beginning to walk down the isle next to the man, “why not?” The man was tall, he had on a plain white V-neck and green cargo shorts, he looked to be in his late 50’s or early 60’s. “Nothing to be thankful for,” he said, matter of factly. I’m not really a crier, in fact my family makes fun of the fact that I never shed a tear in any movie, except for Homeward Bound because, well, how can you not? But I stood right there in the middle of Target, staring at the calorie count in chicken noodle soup surrounded by tiny pieces of fake snow, crying. It wasn’t like a total meltdown, just some tears that I quickly got under control, but still, I cried in Target. How horrible must this man’s life be that he has nothing to be thankful for? Nothing? How tragic to go through life with nothing or no one to be grateful for. I couldn’t help but feel so sorry for him. Maybe he did have things in his life to be thankful for, just a terrible outlook, but either way, it made me so sad to think that someone out there feels so discouraged, so traumatized, so beaten down that they can’t even celebrate Thanksgiving.
A lot of times I think that losing Will makes me some kind of expert in heartbreak. Somehow my loss is the greatest of all losses and my grief is the more than anyone else’s. The truth is that everyone has a burden, a loss, a heartache that they carry. Comparing those pains does nothing productive, it only divides and we need each other, especially in mourning. It causes the one who thinks that they carry the greatest burden to feel bitter and the one who is perceived to carry the lesser burden to feel inferior or maybe even weak for not being able to deal with their “smaller” burden as well as the other person handles their “bigger” one. Gratitude combats bitterness. Practicing thankfulness, I believe, is vital.
Ever since we started going to the Church of Eleven 22 in Jacksonville five years ago, we have been encouraged by our Pastor to make a list of things we are thankful for. One for every year we have been alive. There have been multiple times that he has read us his own list during a sermon. So here is my list, 30 things I am thankful for and I could keep going with ease. I pray one day the man I overheard in Target can have a list like this too and maybe then he can experience the joy in celebrating Thanksgiving.
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My name is Courtney Hughes and I am Will's mommy. I am happy that you are here to read Will's story and make a difference with us!