Day 327/365 “The Air a Library”

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my father.

Sometimes these thoughts wrap me in a blanket of melancholy. Other times they bring on a smile or even an audible laugh.

The stupidest things remind me of him – like my daughter asking me if I ever saw “Bedtime for Bonzo” (she was reading about Ronald Reagan). I never did see it, I told her, but Papa used to say that all the time as he corralled me up to bed…“Bedtime for Bonzo!” 

I don’t recall whether that expression was met with a giggle or a groan…but I remember him saying it…I can hear him saying it…with a grin.

Last weekend we got together for a family dinner at my mother’s house. All together there were eight adults, nine children and two dogs. It was a beautiful evening and everyone was outside. The children and dogs were running around in the late afternoon sun. As we sat there in one of my father’s favorite places – the terrace, under the wisteria vines – I just had a feeling that we were all thinking about dad.

Sometimes when this happens, I’ll bring a voice to it – I’ll say, “I really miss him.” 

Other times I feel it’s better to just sit with that sensation – that he is in the air all around us. We don’t have to say it out loud. It just is. 

I have the hardest time explaining how it feels sometimes – the sensation of missing someone so much, yet simultaneously feeling as though he is everywhere, permeating everything…especially in that house, on that terrace. 

I know those of you who have lost a loved one know what I mean…

They never really cease to be…HERE.

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I just finished a book yesterday…one of those books you are sad to finish. Below is an excerpt that I have read over and over and over…because it explains so perfectly this sensation of which I speak….

“Torrents of text messages, tides of cell conversations, of television programs, of email, vast networks of fiber and wire interlaced above and beneath the city, passing through buildings, arcing between transmitters and metro tunnels, between antennas atop buildings, from lampposts with cellular transmitters in them, commercials for Carrefore and Evian, and prebaked toaster pastries flashing into space and back to earth again. I’m going to be late and Maybe we should get reservations? and Pick up avocados and What did he say? and ten thousand I miss yous, fifty thousand I love yous, hate mail, and appointment reminders and market updates, jewelry ads, coffee ads, furniture ads flying invisibly over the warrens of Paris, over the battlefields and tombs, over the Ardennes, over the Rhine, over Belgium and Denmark, over the scarred and ever shifting landscapes we call nations. And is it so hard to believe that souls might also travel these paths? That [they] might harry the sky in flocks like egrets, like terns, like starlings? That great shuttles of souls might fly about, faded but audible if you listen closely enough? They flow above the chimneys, ride the sidewalks, slip through your jacket and shirt and breastbone and lungs, and pass out through the other side, the air a library and the record of every life lived, every sentence spoken, every word transmitted still reverberating within it.” – excerpt from All The Light We Cannot See

I asked one of my girls to read the above passage to me as I typed it out for you. When we were finished I asked her if she understood what it meant. She said no, so I explained it to her…

If we are constantly surrounded by words and information and messages of love that we cannot see…can’t we also believe that the souls and the words of the dead may also be swirling around us, all the time?

I could tell she found the idea of it a bit unsettling…that the souls of the dead are flying and flowing all around us.

I can understand that, especially if you imagine some of the less pleasant souls making their rounds, but…

To me, because of my father, it feels like love…everywhere…

“If you listen closely enough…”

“They flow above the chimneys, ride the sidewalks, slip through your jacket and shirt and breastbone and lungs, and pass out through the other side, the air a library and the record of every life lived, every sentence spoken, every word transmitted still reverberating within it.”

…the air a library…

Just…poetry.

Day 325/365 Let There Be Color

This weekend we celebrated my mother’s birthday. I told her I’ve never been happier to celebrate someone’s birthday…and that’s the truth.

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While still mourning my father, the idea that my mother might not survive breast cancer this year was a very real and visceral fear for all of us.  Coming around to her birthday – cancer free – was truly something to celebrate. 

I got to thinking this morning about something I read once, somewhere…it was something to the effect of…

What would you do differently if you knew you were dying? Well, guess what…YOU ARE.

We are ALL dying. 

Not to be grim [smirk].

The truth is, we are all inching toward death, every day. Of course, some of us have a lot longer to go than others. Sadly, this doesn’t necessarily have as much to do with age as we’d like to think.

Sure, we can take precautions; be smart. We can eat healthy, exercise, manage our stress, try our best not to run with scissors…but beyond that we don’t have much control over our ultimate fate.

So…live every moment as if it’s your last!

Hmm.

I am not going to say that.

I have had enough hard knocks over the past couple of years to understand how unrealistic that is…and I am not going to shame myself for my emotions. Sometimes we get hit hard, and we reel from it. If I have a day when I just want to crawl back under the covers and hide…and that is even remotely possible to do that day…I am going to go for it. I am not going to force myself to savor the day because it may be my last.

True contentment and joy are not forced. They are arrived at with grace.

Grace for ourselves, and for everyone else…even, or especially, the people who challenge us.

Grace is not always an easy place to land.

Sometimes it means processing our reactions – not stuffing them down under the guise of perpetually enjoying the moment!

Sometimes, we need time…space…perspective.

So…if we can’t possibly enjoy every moment, yet we are aware that the number of moments we are granted is never truly known…where does that leave us?

I think it leaves us in a place where we have to learn to appreciate the full experience of our humanity. We can allow ourselves to experience ALL of what it means to be human,  and get to a place where there is no shame in it.

No shame in feeling angry, sad, jealous, afraid –

And then…

Learning to release it...because we can’t stay there.

An image comes to me of an abstract painting. Can you imagine a piece of art that could convey all of the emotion of your life –

No identifiable images – JUST COLORS.

How would it look?

Would you want the painting of your life to be monochromatic?

Not me.

I’d want it all to be there – messy and spilling out over the entire canvas – the light, the dark, the passion, the fear, the joy...

I imagine if you look closely, analytically, you could see the detail of each emotion, both the subtle and the dramatic shifts in hue.  The colors would weave toward and away from each other…often overlapping…one spilling into the next.

Then, if you were to stand back from it…when you take in the piece as a whole…

You would truly see it.

The whole me;

My whole life.

You would see all of the messy layers aren’t random. In fact, they come together to evoke one very palpable and permeating emotion –

LOVE.

Let there be color.

Day 315/365 Your Father’s Favorite

It hit me today unexpectedly, and with the sudden force of a freight train.

I was sitting there, in my parents’ house, having coffee with my mother.  I had spent the night, and I was enjoying a cozy and relaxed morning in my pajamas.

She pointed to an enlarged photograph behind me on the wall and said, “I should probably change that to something more recent. Will was only five in that picture….so it is more than a decade old…but, it was your father’s favorite….”

Your father’s favorite.

That’s all it took to knock the wind out of me.

It surprised me, for I think about my father every single day, but lately it hasn’t rattled me as often…not like this. If anything, I have found a new way to be with him. I have been talking to him a lot. Of course, he probably thinks I only call on him when I need something…

Typical kid.

Okay, fine…maybe praying for him to let me make it to the gas station on fumes was kind of an abuse of his potential on the other side (although I did make it…thanks Dad).

Back to this morning…

Your father’s favorite.

There I was…about to dissolve into a puddle. For a panicked second I considered making a dash for the bathroom before the floodgates opened. I thought I should protect my mother from my pain…she doesn’t need this…not right now with all of her worries, but…

It was too late.

“What did I say?” she asked, “Is it…Dad?”

I nodded my head yes. “Sometimes I just expect him to come walking around the corner,” I said, tears streaming down. “I wish he were here right now.”

I know what you mean,” she said, gently. “I still think it’s him whenever the phone rings, or whenever someone pulls into the driveway.”

I couldn’t help but imagine the small death she must feel every single time she remembers that isn’t possible.

He’s gone.

As if reading my thoughts she said, “He’s still very much here.”

My mind flashed back to a conversation we’d had a few months after he died. Trying to comfort her, I had said that very thing – “He is still here.”

Somewhat angrily (and justifiably so) she’d replied, “What good is it for him to be “here” if he can’t be HERE?!”

I felt a slight sense of relief; glad that she has since found some peace within his transition into spirit.

I wondered what it was like –  to live with a ghost.

Then I realized, I already knew.

Day 314/365 A Blog Mostly Full

One year ago (one year and two days, to be precise) I announced that I was going to write a blog a day for 365 days.

You may ask…

What the hell were you thinking?

That’s a fair question – and one I have asked myself more than once. The answer is…I was drowning, and somehow I knew that writing would help me to keep my head above water.

I wasn’t wrong.

I wrote every day for more than half the year, but at a certain point I began to relax a little and to allow myself to take a pass, or two…or as it turns out…51.

I can choose to see this as a blog partially empty or as a blog mostly full. Personally, I think writing 313 blogs in 365 is an accomplishment, so I am going to go ahead and take this as a win…with the condition that I will keep writing. Stopping now would feel like tripping and falling with the finish line in sight. If I had 314 blogs in me, I am sure there must be 51 more kicking around in here as well.

I’ll find them. 

The truth is I wasn’t sure exactly when I started the blog (the precise date), but the first ones started showing up in my Facebook news feed as “memories” two days ago, so…there was my answer.

All this time I have deliberately avoided going back to read any of them. I honestly have no idea how doing so is gong to make me feel, but I am curious

Will the me from a year ago seem far removed from the me I am today? Will I relate to my own words differently now with the perspective I have gained?

Is it a time capsule I am really prepared to unearth?

For Dad – you’re why I’m here…asking the questions and seeking the answers.

Day 308/365 Are You REALLY Okay?

Once, when I was twenty-two, I was duct taped to a board for several hours.

[I thought that might get your attention.]

Okay fine, I am sure it wasn’t actually duct tape…coulda been some kind of a strap, I suppose….and maybe it was actually some kind of spinal board EMT’s use.

It probably wasn’t a couple of hours, either, but it sure felt that way.

I had been in a car accident…a really bad car accident. I was hit nearly head on at a four way intersection, causing my car to do a 180. Later, when my Uncle Ed saw the car, all he could say was “HOLY. SHIT.

The whole front end was crumpled in like a tin can.

I was alone in the car.

People came running and were yelling, “Are you okay?!? DON’T MOVE!”

I remember thinking, “I don’t know….AM I OKAY?!” It didn’t seem to anyone present (including, for a moment – me) that I could possibly be okay.

I did a full body scan – ten fingers, ten toes…limbs still attached and intact, no apparent hemorrhaging…

“Ugh….yeessss? Yes. YES, I AM OKAY!!! I AM!!”

(They didn’t believe me.)

When the paramedics got there, despite my claims of being okay, they duct taped me to a board (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). One strap went across my forehead so I couldn’t turn my head, another across my upper arms, and then one across my hips.

At the hospital, I remember being placed in a holding room. I was still attached to the board, which was now on top of a gurney. It seemed like forever that I was in there, all alone, unable to move. That part felt scary.

A nurse came in and asked me who they should call. I was nearest my Aunt Anne and Uncle Ed’s house in a different state, so I said they should call them, instead of my parents. I knew my aunt would lose it if she got a cold call from the hospital about my having been in an accident, so I insisted that the nurse dial the number and hold the phone up to my face so I could tell her for myself.

“Hi, Aunt Anne.  I am okay, but I had an accident and I’m at the hospital.” On the other end of the line I heard a gasp and then, “Oh Dear.” (Classic Anne.)

I could feel the tears streaming down my face and collecting in my ears (because I could not turn my head nor lift my arms to wipe the tears away).

“Really, I’m okay,” I reiterated. I’m just…duct taped to a board.”

I really was okay…pretty sore for a few days, but no worse for the wear, as they say. (Unfortunately, the same could not be said for my car.)

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Why am I telling you this story? I am telling you because I couldn’t help but think of it today. Here’s why…

This morning I woke up with two little girls in my bed. As usual, they had snuck in with me in the night. They were snuggled up to me on either side. I laid there for a while just thinking about the amazing little beings that they are. My God, I love them so much.

I thought about everything they have had thrown at them in the past few years.

Frankly, it seems like enough to have done some pretty serious damage…their parents’ divorce, the death of someone they adored, their Nana battling cancer, and then there’s the matter of their dad revealing he feels he is really a woman…

These are not small things.

I wondered…are my girls really Okay? Really?

Like my accident, it seems nearly impossible for them to walk away from (or through) all of this unscathed. Should I be duct taping them to a board or something?! (Metaphorically speaking, of course.)

I was still pondering this at the bus stop, where I found myself bringing the question to my friend, Michelle.

“Are my kids really okay?  They seem okay. Is that…really the truth?” 

Never one to shrink from a question, she kindly reminded me of a few important things…

First – My girls are more than okay….they are pretty incredible.

Second – Life’s challenges build compassion, gratitude, and perspective.

Third – No matter what a child goes through, knowing that someone has their back – come hell or high water – is what makes all the difference. It isn’t what a child goes through, as much as it is about them knowing they never have to do it alone. 

blessings

 

Day 290/365 The Way You Made Us Feel

Today is my father’s birthday. He would have been 72 years old.

Everyone I have ever talked to about losing a parent has said that the loss has stayed with them, always. To me it feels like a hole that can never be filled. I can learn not to fall into it so easily. I can even plant flowers around it to make it more beautiful. Perhaps the flowers are manifestations of all of the memories I cherish. Yet the awareness of the hole, and the beauty of those memory-blooms, can never make it cease to be.

I’ve been thinking all day about what I’d like to say to honor the day – to honor him. I thought of making one of those lists of “things I learned from my father” but instead of a list, a quote kept coming to mind.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

That’s just it. He was kind and wise in gesture and in words, but it wasn’t what he said or what he did that made him the man he was. It was the way he made us feel. It was the way he made everyone feel.

A few months after my father passed away, my brother, Bill, found this poem in my father’s desk. I’d like to share it with you. Happy birthday, Dad.

Growing Old by Rollin J. Wells

A little more tired at the close of day,
A little more anxious to have our way,
A little less ready to scold and blame,
A little more care for a brother’s name;
And so we are nearing the journey’s end,
Where time and eternity meet and blend.

A little less care for bonds or gold,
A little more zeal for the days of old;
A broader view and a saner mind,
And a little more love for all mankind;
And so we are faring down the way
That leads to the gates of a better day.

A little more love for the friends of youth,
A little more zeal for established truth,
A little more charity in our views,
A little less thirst for the daily news;
And so we are folding our tents away
And passing in silence at close of day.

A little more leisure to sit and dream,
A little more real the things unseen,
A little nearer to those ahead,
With visions of those long loved and dead;
And so we are going where all must go —
To the place the living may never know.

A little more laughter, a few more tears,
And we shall have told our increasing years.
The book is closed and the prayers are said,
And we are part of the countless dead;
Thrice happy, then, if some soul can say,
“I live because of their help on the way.”

Day 278/365 Neither Here Nor There

Harveys are dreamers…literally. We tend to have very vivid dreams. I know I have mentioned this before, but…

It’s late, and I am up writing because Beau (my eleven year old) woke me up from a sound sleep by calling out for me, urgently. I went in to check on her and soon realized she was not awake at all. She said in a very distressed tone of voice, “She tried to hand it to me. I don’t know why…why did she do that?!”

One night when she was in my bed, she sat bolt upright and said, “Mommy…do you see them? They want to steal our toilets! The only way to get rid of them is to throw candy at them! DO WE HAVE ANY CANDY?!”

As I have gotten older I find that I don’t recall as many dreams in the detail I once did…and I miss it. When I wake up aware that I have been dreaming, the details often feel frustratingly just out of reach…like a name on the tip of my tongue.

I had a dream about my dad one night, not long after he died. We were standing in the rain outside a large office building. I was cold, and standing barefoot in my wet pajamas. He wrapped his overcoat around me…a coat I remembered as having belonged to his father too. In the dream I was aware that my father had crossed over, and that this visit with him was otherworldly, and desperately important. He tenderly placed the palms of his hands on either side of my face, as if to be sure he had my full attention, and then he spoke…

When I woke up I could remember the texture and the smell of his coat, the feel of my rain-soaked clothes…and I had this sense that what he shared was of powerful significance in my life…it was the key that would make it all make sense…and it was this…

I have no damn clue.

(That’s not literally what he said, though at the moment that strikes me funny as hell – The ultimate wisdom from beyond…”I have no damn clue.”)

Actually, I couldn’t remember what he’d said.

Oh, it’s the worst…when you wake up and you feel as though you could have solved life’s mysteries in your sleep, if only you had been awake enough to hear the answers.

I’d like to think that on some level, I heard him…that he did impart his wisdom. Perhaps I will unlock it at the right moment…or maybe I already have, somehow.

Maybe our dreams are where we can really connect with those who have passed on…we can visit them in a place that is neither here nor there.

Dreams can be beautiful gifts.

About a month ago, I had a dream in which I was at a party. I was standing in a crowd, scanning the room as if I’d just arrived and was looking for a familiar face. From across the room, I saw the unmistakable figure of my grandmother, Lynette. My heart leapt, for she had passed twelve years prior.

I couldn’t wait to see her…to hug her.

As I began to walk toward her, someone came racing by me from behind. It was Beau. She tore across the room toward my grandmother, and when she reached her, they belly laughed and wrapped each other up in their arms.

This was the most beautiful thing to witness, because…in this lifetime, they never met.

Day 274/365 I’ve Gotta Go, I Love You

Sometimes I find it really hard to write the blog because my head is so filled with something that I don’t want to share, either because it’s too mortifying (yeah, there’s stuff in here I don’t share – scary considering all I do share, I know) or because I feel like people are tired of my whining.

I really don’t walk around like Eeyore all the time. Life goes on. I mean, I smile and laugh and carry on with my day, almost always…but sometimes the core of me is just really sad and writing anything other than that seems inauthentic.  This blog is supposed to reflect how I really feel. It’s supposed to be about all of the stuff that is percolating under the surface, threatening to suffocate me if I don’t get it out.

Yet – how many blogs can I write about losing my dad?

Well….quite a few, as it turns out…but how many will you want to read?

It’s then that I have to stop and remind myself why I started doing this to begin with – not for you, but for me. So, I’ll write. I’ll purge. I’ll let it out.

I’ll exhale.

(Still, somehow I feel like I owe you an apology. Like I’ve lured you into a dramatic film and you’re kind of stuck here waiting for the happy ending so you don’t have to go to bed sad.)

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They kept my dad heavily sedated (can you believe they can sedate someone who is already unconscious? Oh, the things you learn…).

They had to do this because he was having seizures, constantly – petit mal – the kind you can’t see. The doctor described them as electrical storms in his brain. They didn’t want the storms to (further) damage his brain, so they sedated him to stop them.

The problem was, with the heavy sedation they couldn’t tell whether there was any “normal” brain function.

So we had to wait, and wait. They’d cut back the sedatives, and the storm would begin again…so they’d put him back on them…again…and again.

The entire week – this week last year – we were in this horrifying purgatory…and we all keep having flashbacks.

Both of my brothers called me today, and I talked with them each only for a few minutes as I was at work. At a certain point in each conversation, someone needed my attention and I said, “I’ve gotta go, I love you,” when what I wanted to say was…

I know.

I’m there too.

I’m right there with you.

I’m watching my tears drip onto his impossibly warm hand.

I’m soaring at the sight of his suddenly open eyes, only to realize they see nothing.

I’m sitting on the cold floor in the corridor, because it is somehow less depressing than the waiting room.

I’m sitting in the hospital chapel, embarrassed by the fact that my first real talk with God is happening here – in a glorified closet – after all of the hallowed places I’ve been.

I’m there, in the cold conference room with too many chairs, waiting to hear them say what we already know.

I’m there, wanting to throttle the neurologist with the nervous habit of smirking while she says the worst things a person can say. Doesn’t she know her words cut like knives?

I’m there, but I also have to be here – today.

So, life goes on…despite the storms in my brain.

Dad, I’ve gotta go…I love you.

 

Day 272/365 Recycling the Year

Perhaps a bit too eagerly, I pulled the 2017 calendar off of the wall last week. I took it down and threw it into the recycling bin. Good riddance 2017.

A few minutes later, I circled back into the kitchen and I fished it back out again. For whatever reason, I had to take one last look at it – at this terrible train wreck of a year –  a year that began with a death and ended with a fight for life.

Before I could relegate that collection of pages to be recycled…to becoming something else entirely (how’s that for a metaphor?), I needed to see it one more time – my year in review.

Bracing myself, I opened up the calendar to January, and to my surprise I found a completely blank page.

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February was blank as well.

It was as if time stood still for those two months…as if nothing happened, or nothing that happened mattered. 

The living resumed in March…and from the looks of it – I made sure I lived.

Yes, there were doctor’s appointments, school obligations, and other such reminders, but also…

I flew to Georgia, Virginia, Florida and California.

I made two trips to the theatre.

I saw some fabulous live music – The Wood Brothers, Tedeschi Trucks Band, and Ben Folds. I saw Amy Schumer and Jerry Seinfeld perform stand up.

I took two trips to Maine, including our infamous island adventure.

I visited Cape May, New Jersey with my mother for the first time in many years.

I spent more days than I ever have during one year, at my favorite place – Miskiania.

I celebrated the fiftieth wedding anniversary of two of my favorite people. 

Twice I looked on as people I love vowed to love one another in sickness and in health.

I put on two festivals at my school.

I took my faculty out for a holiday dinner.

I threw myself a birthday party.

These are the events of which I was reminded as I flipped through the pages. So many good memories of happy moments, events, or days, sprinkled throughout an incredibly challenging year.

However, these events scrawled throughout the calendar aren’t really what I’d like to take away from my review of 2017.  What isn’t written there in rainbow Sharpies is all that I learned.

I learned so much – about myself especially, but also about others. Tragedies, and what happens in their midst and in their wake, are illuminating in so many ways.

I learned that emotion and self expression are not indicative of weakness, but rather of incredible strength. Nothing requires such a summoning of strength as does complete vulnerability and honesty.

To say here I am…and here is what is really on my mind, and in my heart.

I learned not to be afraid to share from the deepest parts of me – because that is where we truly connect as human beings.

We all have those dark and tender places within us.

You’ll laugh when I tell you that 2017 in true relentless fashion, is wrapping things up for me with a nice little flu virus this New Year’s Eve.

Oh 2017, I wouldn’t expect anything less from you, Sweetheart…but just know that you didn’t beat me. All you did was show me that I can handle more than I ever imagined I could.

Which leaves me with my greatest accomplishment of 2017.

I kept showing up…every day.

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See you next year.

I’m ready.

Day 247/365 A Bundle of Gratitude

I have always been adamantly opposed to putting up a Christmas tree in November. This year, though, I really wanted to decorate for Christmas early.

“Bring on the shine and the joy!” I thought.

We went and picked out a tree yesterday. As a single woman, lugging the tree off of the top of my car and carrying it into the house myself brings me some perverse satisfaction. It’s really not that hard to do, but it is one of those things, like using the grill and taking out the trash, that somehow always fell into the category of “manly jobs” during my marriage (though that does hold some irony now).

We put the tree up and planned to decorate it today. When it came time to get the decorations out, I found myself holding my breath a bit. Dad collapsed just two days after Christmas last year. It’s hard not to muddy that stress and sadness together with the sights and sounds of Christmas.

I reminded myself of what I’d written just last week on Thanksgiving – this season is going to stir up a lot of feelings – joy, anger, sadness, nostalgia, gratitude…and I have to be okay with honoring them all.

I will welcome them all to the holiday table. 

As the girls and I began to sort through the decorations and ornaments, I couldn’t find the massive tangle of Christmas lights. Every year I pull them out and curse myself for not having a better system for removing and storing them. They look like a massive squirrel’s nest, and it takes me forever to detangle them.

“That’s weird,” I thought. “No lights? What could I have done with them?”

I racked my brain to try to remember where I could have put them. Finally, Ruby pulled out a compact, perfected spooled wreath of Christmas lights.

How the hell did that happen? 

Then I remembered…it was Lynette. One night in early January while I was sleeping in the ICU with dad, she took down Christmas for me. Without a word, she had put away all of the decorations. She had taken down the tree.

She had rolled my Christmas lights into a perfect bundle. 

That’s really all it took to shift my mood….just that little reminder that we are never alone, the girls and I. We have amazing people who love us. People who take care of us without being asked, and sometimes in ways we had never even considered.

Hello Gratitude, welcome to the holiday table.