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Giving Thanks

I went home for Thanksgiving for the first time in five years. It was also the first time in about six or seven years that my mom’s whole side of the family had been together. There’s nothing in the world like that all-togetherness.

I am so thankful for living abroad, but also for the freedom of movement that lets me go home easily and have time with my family. In a time where most of the world is at best uncertain and at worst deadly for some people, I am so thankful for the ability to see the world without fear. I thought of that as I watched the news before I flew home. I think of it often.

On my way home, one of the things I had to pack was a small rock. It was a rock, in fact, that I had found in Brighton and which contained the fossil of a small sea creature of some kind.

A few weeks before Thanksgiving, when it became clear that yes, really, all the family was going to be there, we all got an email from my mother inviting us to participate in a surprise croning for my aunt.

A croning, in brief, is a ceremony designed to reaffirm the value of women of age and wisdom. I was going to say something mildly euphemistic like ‘women of a certain age’ or ‘women entering a new stage of life’, but that would be defeating the point of the ceremony, which is to celebrate the value that comes with life experience. But it’s not just a celebration of past achievements. It is also an exhortation to put that wisdom to use, to guide and mentor others, and to explore new and hidden depths yet to be discovered.

My aunt, a social worker for the Veteran’s Administration until her retirement earlier this year, has already been a guiding force in many lives, a shining force in dark waters. The croning was a chance for all of us to relate a memory or a thought about my aunt and I was struck by how many of us spoke about my aunt’s generosity of spirit to people in need.

We had also collected remembrances from people who couldn’t make it to the ceremony–friends and family far away. A basket of cards overflowed with joyous greetings and warm memories. And my rock? We presented three to her, representing the past, present and future, all from places significant in her life. We also presented her with a crown of wisdom, made expertly by my mother (already croned in a previous ceremony at which my aunt and I were both present), salt for the flavor of life and the salt of the earth, and candles for the light that knowledge casts.

Cronings are normally an all-woman ceremony but as it was Thanksgiving and our whole family was there, we decided the men would be allowed to come too. One of the things that most touched me about the ceremony was the way that everyone came to it with an open heart. I feel very thankful to be part of a family that had the imagination and the emotional courage to really take part in the full spirit of the ceremony. I mean, really, not everyone gets to have people like that in their lives. Every person there was really present, fully engaged for for the whole thing. And my aunt received a lifetime’s worth of affirmations that she so richly deserved. But how fortunate are we? For we got back more than we gave.

To close, my mom read out an invocation that included the phrase “Have no fear, and let not the ways or words of the unenlightened give you unease.” This is wisdom to which I aspire.

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