The scents of bittersweet chocolate, pumpkin and spices, and bursting blueberries are all mixed up in the kitchen this morning. It's the day before Thanksgiving, which means I'm in full pie-baking mode. This is the joy of the road-tripping family member: To bake, to drive, to share, to return to a clean kitchen without the prospect of days of turkey-based meals!
As you know if you've been with me for a while, this is also the day dear friends of mine opened their home for a longstanding Veggie Thanksgiving celebration. Last year was the first without that warm and wacky gathering. And this year is the first without one-half of its hosting team. My treasured friend John Rafalak, the husband and father of more treasured friends, passed beyond this mortal plain back in February.
Today, I can't help but think of his towering frame stooping into a series of hugs, his favorite form of greeting, as the door opened time after time. I can hear his delighted chuckle ringing out at the presence of so many bright and witty friends. He'd be kicked back in his faded blue recliner with the worn arms, fiddling with an iPad on which he'd loaded the latest music-creation app. He'd play a few bars of one thing or another, insist that the other musicians in the room give it a try, then turn the camera on the guests sprawled on couches and the floor, chattering away. He'd make sure to get at least one panorama shot, doing his best to capture each face in the crowd. When it came time for the sharing of "thankfuls," he'd pull up FaceTime or Skype and connect friends spending the holidays far away (or simply stuck at work), placing them in the circle as surely as if they were in the room.
There are so many ways we can keep with us those who've gone ahead. For John, it seems that one of the most fitting personal tributes is to keep on with this tradition he enjoyed so much. So here goes.
I'm thankful for travels. It's been a crazy year, with a week in New York City in January, work trips back to the city and to DC in the spring, a week in Halifax in May, three months truly on the road (whether the interstate system or the backroads), and six weeks or so back and forth between New Hampshire and New York. Every mile of the way, I've had the opportunity to see new places, visit people I love, meet a wide variety of people with shining eyes, remind myself what a bubble we find ourselves in when we're in one place for too long (especially, I think, in the Northeast), and consider where I'd like to go again.
I'm thankful for friends. In such a wonderfully disjointed year, my friends have been the source of joy, humor, and support. I am not one to ask for help often (even when it's necessary). But whether through encouraging Facebook posts, eager catch-ups over dinner, 20-years-overdue giggle fits, the lending of spare rooms, the loading of furniture, or strings of texted emojis (from a kid I've known since she was born), the sense of community and affection is strong.
I'm thankful for health. The year started on an up note thanks to a fantastic trainer and the success of building strength and endurance. Although my nutrition and exercise regimen has suffered severely during the latter half of the year's travels, I'm looking forward to getting back to it. My eyes are fixed on things I want to do, and those things aren't necessarily easy! Why do I want to do them? Just to prove I can.
I'm thankful for family. For the first time in years, my Southeastern aunt will be joining the Northeastern Thanksgiving celebrations. Of course, one of my Northeastern cousins will be in Canada, celebrating what our northern neighbors call "Thursday." My parents were kind enough to give me a place to land for a few weeks while I determined what to do next. It's just something we do in our family, but it's still very welcome. And then, of course, there is my spirit family, as I've come to think of both my dear friends (one of whom totally forced me to buy a flying cow in Seattle) and of the wonderful hearts who have been helping me learn about Mr. Khanjani. From his former cellmates and friends, to students he helped, to his daughter and brother, every one of them has been eager to help me understand this gentle, fierce prisoner.
I'm thankful for freedom. My own, of course, in that not everywhere in the world would it be safe, or even possible, for a woman to undertake the things I have in the last couple of years. And living where I live means that I can write freely about a topic that, in the land where events are taking place, is considered something of a taboo. More than that, though, I'm thankful for the recent release of Mahvash Sabet and Fariba Kamalabadi, two of the seven former Baha'i leaders in Iran (including Mr. Khanjani) who are completing their tenth year of incarceration. Freedom sometimes means hope.
I'm thankful for stability. As much as I had grand plans to pull all my worldly goods from storage, load the kayak atop the car, and resettle wherever I pleased at the end of this year's trip, I am grateful for the option to make more thorough preparations. The fact is, running hell-bent for leather toward someplace new and different is a hard urge to resist. But holding still, getting organized, and then perhaps approaching that run with a certain amount of clearheadedness is responsible. Thanks to my clients, friends, and family, I can choose stability for the moment, knowing there's excitement ahead.
I'm thankful for luminarias and green chiles. Yep, you read that right. Luminarias are the celebratory brown-paper-bag lanterns weighted with sand and flickering with candlelight that adorn paths, porches, and rooflines in New Mexico during the Christmas season and sometimes for other festivities. And green chiles (Hatch, please) are a food group all of their very own. Both of them inhabit a place I'm very happy to have found this year. Just knowing they're out there makes me smile.