In this most unusual holiday season, as families gather on Zoom to carve their turkeys, I am thankful for having rediscovered the capacity to be astonished.
Pretty much everything that’s happened over the past year has been astonishing. Not to mention frightening, unprecedented and, at times, heartbreaking.
“Dad have you ever seen anything like this?” said my son Bo, meaning the pandemic, the economic collapse, the social unrest, one thunderbolt after another.
All I could do was shake my head no.
And yet, a little astonishment can be a good thing. It jolts us out of ruts we’ve unconsciously slipped into. It opens our eyes to new possibilities.
It can inspire someone like me – whose idea of gardening is watching the leaves change color – to build a raised flowerbed of marigolds, mandevilla and Mexican heather.
It can even turn back the clock.
The Most Powerful Attorney in the World
Lately my thoughts have been traveling back in time to when I was a rookie lawyer with a shiny new shingle on Broad Street in Charleston, and everything was amazing.
“I’m looking for a powerful attorney,” said a caller who would become my very first client.
“Well,” I said, surprised that news of my reputation had spread so quickly. “You’ve come to the right place.”
Imagine my further surprise when we met the next day and I realized I had misunderstood. What this sweet, elderly woman with the James Island accent actually wanted was a power of attorney, not a powerful one.
But no matter. In those days, all of life seemed stupendous. The regal gold seal on my law license, the sweet pinstripes on my Belk’s suit, the fact that people would pay good money for the opportunity to talk with me.
And in the cozy Sullivan’s Island cottage I called home, something even more astounding was happening.
We were expecting our first child.
Expect the Unexpected
That in itself was a marvel, as we’d been trying unsuccessfully for some time. I quickly went out and purchased not one but two copies of What to Expect When You’re Expecting, so we’d be doubly prepared.
But life has a funny way of not following the book. My wife went into labor two months early, and when baby Bo arrived he had to stay in the hospital for two weeks.
He came home perfectly healthy but so tiny you could almost hold him in your palm. And hold him we did. Not just us, but his grandparents and aunts and uncles too. We all held him, all the time. There was so much holding that Bo spent most of his infancy airborne.
As such, he approached his second year without the slightest inclination to ever put one foot in front of the other, and we were growing concerned.
“Well, if you never put him down,” said his pediatrician, smiling. “He’ll never learn to walk.”
And sure enough, the moment we placed Bo on terra firma he took off running and hasn’t stopped since.
The Only Constant is Change
Life is not a still photograph. It’s a motion picture. Sometimes we forget that. We want the good scenes to last forever without changing. We want the bad scenes to disappear and never return.
It doesn’t work that way, at least not for me.
The universe delights in upending my best-laid plans. And though my default reaction is to wail, gnash my teeth and demand my “normal” life back, I’ve come to see that those antics do nothing but wear me out and make me a pain to be around.
A gentler path is to accept the hand I’m dealt and pray for the strength, wisdom and courage to make the best of it.
Silver Linings in Dark Times
And so, this will be a most uncommon Thanksgiving. I’ll miss gathering with the entire family and holding hands around a table brimming with turkey and ham and green bean casserole and pecan pie made from a family recipe handed down for generations.
Still, there is much to be grateful for, starting with the pleasure of writing these words and the privilege of your taking time to read them.
I’m thankful also for the golden swirl of falling leaves, the laughter of children next door, the fine young man my son Bo has become.
And just moments ago, passing the flowerbed on my way to the mailbox, I was stopped short by an unexpected sight. The heather had exploded into an ocean of blossoms. Each tiny flower was lacy and lavender and astonishingly lovely in the slanting autumn light.
Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina and is author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World. He runs Your Law Life LLC, which helps lawyers and firms improve their well-being and create saner, more successful law lives. He is available for talks, presentations and confidential consultations.