I do hate this genre, but Thanksgiving is coming. If I don’t write this, someone less savory will. Like the folks at Jezebel.
What am I thankful for? A lot. A lot less than I should be, perhaps — I don’t know that I’ve ever taken sufficient stock of how fortunate I am to have indoor plumbing, for instance. Running water, too, and affordable food — you can get a 20-pack of instant oatmeal for less than $5 in this country. Really. That’s twenty days worth of breakfast for just under a quarter per unit. It’s a bona fide miracle of modernity. The great kings and monarchs of antiquity could have scarcely conceived it. I don’t mean that to sound like the beginning of a Heritage Foundation missive about the wonders of global capitalism — for everything there is a season — but only as a surface-level observation: These things — indoor plumbing, running water, cheap food — are essentially certainties of modern American life, each of which are far from certain in other corners of the world, much less in generations prior.
Could you imagine having a Staph infection in 1704?
Taking a step or two up on Maslow’s hierarchy, I was struck, upon a moment’s reflection, by how much I do have to be thankful for beyond just the ease with which I can satisfy my basic needs to eat and drink. Three small, but meaningful, things come to mind:
That Preface in My Douay-Rheims Bible
I bought a Douay-Rheims Bible at a parish-wide book sale earlier this year. It’s a nice one — it’s well-bound, contains reams of commentary, has a section dedicated to Catholic art. Christ flipped the tables on the money changers for desecrating the temple, sure, but I figured He wouldn’t mind my spending a bit of Mammon on a new Bible — even one with a relative abundance of accoutrements. A “waste”? Please. Judas said breaking the alabaster jar was a “waste.”
Some nights, I fall asleep reading that Bible — the mere act of reading tends to be tiring, of course, but it’s especially exhausting to parse the Elizabethan prose used in the Douay-Rheims translation. The text was completed circa 1610, after Catholic scholars spent decades translating the Latin Vulgate; the Douay-Rheims retains most of the glorious (if inscrutable) -eths and doths of the King James Bible, with none of the attendant schism. Ideal.
A few months ago, as it happened, I was reading the beginning of St. John’s Gospel. That Gospel, and in particular the doxology with which it opens, is well known — the Bart Ehrmans of the world tell us that it’s the Gospel that artificially “made” Jesus God. The textual criticism of spoilsports like Ehrman and others notwithstanding, John’s Gospel is my favorite part of the Scriptures, and late one night, on the verge of falling asleep, I stumbled across this preface, inscribed in the small italicized font used in the Baronius Press DR Bible:
“St. Jerome relates, that when [John] was earnestly requested by the brethren to write the Gospel, he answered he would do it, if, by ordering a common fast, they would all put up their prayers together to the Almighty God; which being ended, replenished with the clearest and fullest revelation coming from Heaven, he burst forth into that preface: In the beginning was the Word, etc.”
The image of St. John, after a protracted fast, “bursting forth” with those immortal words — “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” — is one that has yet to, and probably never will, leave me. I’m a sap, but it was nevertheless the most powerful thing I’ve read this year.
It Was a Very Good Year
I was sitting on the train riding home from work– watching, as I’m wont to do, the procession of trees which protrude impossibly from the urban sprawl which seemed to snuff out all other traces of nature– and Sinatra’s It Was a Very Good Year came on in my headphones. Penned by the late Ervin Drake and first recorded by The Kingston Trio, Sinatra’s version has a splendid brew of woodwinds and stringed instruments, interspersed perfectly with one another by Gordon Jenkins. His arrangement creates the song’s famous melancholic ambience.
The lyrics chronicle a man at different stages in his life– from the “soft summer nights” when he was “seventeen” to the “blue-blooded girls of independent means” who consumed his days when he was “thirty-five”– ending with the famous fourth verse:
But now the days are short
I’m in the autumn of the year
And now I think of my life as vintage wine
From fine old kegs
From the brim to the dregs
And it poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year
Lyrical genius, that, to my amazement, is perpetually at my fingertips. The kings of a faraway time had to summon bands and orchestras–with the latent threat of execution, of course–if they wanted to hear music. I need only hit “play.”
The Merritt Parkway
As a lifelong Connecticut resident, I’ve driven up and down the Merritt Parkway countless times. Its allure has yet to fade, and grows at this time of year as the marbled shades of red and gold litter the sides of the highway. Carved out of the Connecticut hillside, the mirrored two-lane road runs from Milford, Conn., to Westchester County in New York. Each bridge along the highway — save for one modern overpass constructed long after the late 1930s when much of the byway was built — is unique. The bridges were built with blends of various architectural styles, primarily based on the standard Depression-era Art Deco employed in other large public works projects at the time, but retaining elements of eccentricity and stylistic ecumenism.
Imbibing the beauty on fall weekends is yet another simple joy that is — to my continued amazement — but a ten-minute car ride away.
In any case, I’m sure you weren’t itching to read any of this, but I’m thankful — to borrow a word — that you struggled on to the conclusion. Happy Thanksgiving.