Sunday, November 18, 2012

Colonel Brandon, Thanksgiving and Jello Salad

     Before I begin my rant, I must get one very important thing out of the way: Who on God's green earth ever decided upon the spelling of the word "colonel"?  This is one of my life long pet peeves and offers further proof that Ben Franklin's idea for a purely phonetic alphabet should have caught on!  How is it that "kernel" and "colonel" are pronounced the same way?  But I digress from what is certain to be a much longer digression from the realm of sane and sound thinking.  The title of this week's post references a Jane Austen character, an American holiday and a holiday food staple.  What, one may wonder, do each of these three very different things have to do with one another?: no one cares about them.  Colonel Brandon is a character from Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility.  He is referenced in the novel by the dashing and much sought after Willoughby as, "the kind of person whom everyone speaks well of, but whom no one remembers to talk to."  He is dependable, duty bound, kind, and full of stories that will never be told because everyone assumes he is a middle-aged stiff.  And, let's face it, in the movie adaptation, Willoughby does have much better hair.  After the impish Willoughby breaks Marianne's heart to pursue some rich trollop, Marianne settles, after some persuasion, upon marrying Colonel Brandon, for purely sensible reasons of course.  As for Thanksgiving; you may argue that everyone loves turkey day, complete with it's football games, parades, pies and food induced comas.  I ask you this: If everyone loves Thanksgiving so much, why is it completely overshadowed by the much more dashing Christmas every single year?  I might add that this overshadowing seems to occur progressively earlier each year.  I think I heard Christmas music on one station the day after Halloween.  Thanksgiving is to Christmas as Colonel Brandon is to Willoughby.  Now for the jello salad, which just so happens to be a staple in many homes on the Colonel Brandon of holidays.  For the past three Thanksgivings spent with my family, I have been in charge of making the jello salad.  It is a Bavarian cream jello salad that has been made by our family for years.  I personally enjoy it very much.  Every year it sits in little bowls near the upper left side of plates.  After pounds of turkey and potatoes and yams and stuffing, rolls and olives and pickles and green bean casserole are consumed, the jello salad still sits forlorn in it's little bowls.  It is usually eaten eventually, purely out of obligation.  But it is not turkey, or stuffing or mashed potatoes and gravy.  It is certainly not pie.  Jello salad is the Colonel Brandon of Thanksgiving food.
     So what?  What is the point?  Call me Colonel Brandon.  I suppose you could call me "Thanksgiving" or "Jello Salad", but that would just be weird.  Have you ever been in a room full of people and said something incredibly witty or funny, but only the person sitting right next to you has heard?  Ten minutes later, the person who was sitting next to you repeats your witty statement word for word (or sometimes not even as well as you originally said it) and everyone in the room laughs and carries on as if it were the cleverest thing anyone had ever said.  This is the story of every large group conversation of my entire life.  Apparently I have a quiet voice, or so I've been told.  I have always felt invisible in large groups. This complex has grown worse since having children.  I now feel invisible to just about everyone some days.  If you want to feel like no one is listening to a word you say, spend a day with three children under the age of ten.  I think I told my children it was time for dinner no less than twelve times last night before they finally showed up at the table.  To further my complex even more, I have the most thankless and invisible calling ever in my church.  I play piano for the children's organization (in our church called "Primary").  I sit behind a piano for two hours in a room that smells of petrified urine and play peppy little songs while half of the children sing and the other half climb up curtains or pick their noses.  The only person who remotely acknowledges I am there is the chorister, who occasionally remembers to nod her head in my general direction when it is time for a song to begin.  In my own family growing up, I was always the last one finished eating at meal times.  I would sit alone for 15-20 minutes finishing my plate of food.  Usually by the time I got done, the rest of my family had cleared their plates, washed their dishes, and were half way through their favorite prime time tv show.  I guess I have a bit of a Colonel Brandon complex.  Now let's take a step back here for a moment.  This is all my pride talking.  It is when I am feeling most prideful that my complex is the strongest, because it is only then that I really care if anyone notices me or what anyone else thinks of me.  It is in these prideful moments that I wish, for just once in my life, to know how it feels to be a Mr. Bingley, or an Elizabeth Bennett, to be the life of the party, or at the very least someone who people remember to talk to.  There are days when I am just plum tired of being the jello salad of every gathering.  I want to be a candied yam or a pumpkin pie.  These are the days I feel like dying my hair hot pink and screaming, "How do you like me now, punks?!"  But of course I never do.  I sit dutifully in the corner or alone at the table and observe everyone around me as they laugh at one another's jokes and show genuine interest in what the other has to say.  Then I usually go home and pour out all my feelings and thoughts to a keyboard or a pen and paper, who have no choice but to let me say exactly what it is I have to say.  But enough of pride and self pity.
     I believe that the antidote to pride is gratitude.  Sad, isn't it, that one of our most underrated, and under appreciated holidays is actually one of the most important?  It is one day out of 365 on which we gather with the people we love most and remember just how very much we have to be thankful for.  I may be a Colonel Brandon, but I am a Colonel Brandon with a lot to be thankful for.  When I can let go of pride, and look outside myself, my awareness of the miraculous blessings in my life, as well as my gratitude for those blessings grow exponentially.  I can see exactly how much I have been given and how much I take for granted every day of my life.  My life is full of seemingly small conveniences that to others around the world would seem blessed miracles: clean water from a faucet which I merely have to turn on, shelter, warmth, three solid and healthy meals each day, vaccinations and modern medicine for my children, and for myself (without which, neither myself nor Hyrum would have lived through his birth), a soft bed and a pillow to rest my head on at the end of the day,  a few close friends who listen to every word I say and love me for exactly who I am, a family who loves me unconditionally.  The list could go on and on.  When I take a step back to look outside of myself, of my own pride and insecurities, I am reminded of the miracle of my very existence.  Alan B. Shepard, the first American to travel in space, who saw the earth from a vantage point which most of us never will, said this of our beloved planet, "It [Earth] is in fact, very finite, very incredibly fragile."  And yet this incredibly fragile orb continues, day after day, season after season, to spin around its axis, one tiny dot in the vast expanse of the universe.  It spins and spins, largely unnoticed, as we go about our daily business of making jello salads, preparing for holidays that will be forgotten as soon as the last bite of turkey is had, sitting alone in corners and observing what in truth is a most miraculous and gratitude inspiring phenomenon that we call daily life.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


     I shamefully admit to having made each of the following comments last night: 1. "Obama's reelection will bring us together.  We can all stand together and sing "Kumbaya" in the soup lines." 2) "If we're going to live in a socialist country for the next four years, let's move to France.  At least they've got delicious pastries and the Louvre."  3) "Maybe the Mayans were right, and we'll only have to put up with Obama and Biden for about another month or so."  I am now ashamed of having made these comments because I have had more time to reflect.  Like tea, thoughts often get better the longer we let them steep.  You see, I left the polls last night in my bright red sweater and drove off in my red mini van in which the stereo was blasting my new "Red" cd by Taylor Swift.  It probably wouldn't have been too difficult for an outside observer to discern which side of the election I stood on.  Aside from being a Republican, I am also a Mormon, and I have to admit that the possibility of having a Mormon president excited me.  Please don't misunderstand; I did not vote for Mitt Romney only because he is a Mormon.  I agreed with many of his ideas about turning the economy around.  But, if I am being completely honest with myself, I think that there was a small part of me that voted for him because he shared my religious convictions.  When I heard that Obama had been reelected, and in such a landslide, when almost every political pundit and poll had predicted that the results would likely be too close to call (some even predicted a tie), I was seeing red all over again.  I was angry, hurt, disappointed, afraid.  The candidate in whom I had placed all my hopes of a new beginning for this haggard nation had not been elected.  I felt defeated.  In fact, as I drove the nearly empty streets on my way home from a shopping trip, I could sense a tangible disappointment all around me.  While people in so many "blue" states around the country lit up the air with excitement and victory celebrations, the very "red" state of Idaho seemed bluer than ever.  All of the hope that Romney's election symbolized was crushed in an instant by two words: "Obama reelected."
     It was upon returning home from shopping that the a fore mentioned utterances escaped my lips as I slammed bags of groceries onto counters.  Dirk was clearly disappointed as well.  The air in our home was rife with the fear of the implications these election results would have for us as a nation and for us individually.  It is fear of the unknown that so often leads to anger, sometimes even hatred.  I was afraid and I was angry.  Thank goodness for the merciful truth that each new dawn brings with it new possibilities.  I awoke this morning feeling much more at peace than I had the night before.  As I was fixing my daughter's hair for school, I informed her that President Obama had won the election.  "I know", she replied, and her face fell a little.  Her school class had "voted" the day before, and in her own little eight year old world, she had been campaigning for Mitt Romney all around the playground.  For what little understanding she had of the significance of the events unfolding, she was still disappointed that her "team" hadn't won.  Mostly in an effort to console her, I said, "It's ok sweetheart. President Obama is a good man too.  He will do his best for us."  Often times it is not utnil we express a thought aloud that we realize we truly believe it.  At that moment I realized that I do believe President Obama to be a good man.  And why should I believe otherwise?  I don't know his life story; where and how he grew up; hopes and dreams which have been lost or realized along his journey.  Without knowing him personally, I can never fully understand where his opinions and policies come from.  But, as a glass half full kinda girl, I am choosing to believe that they come from his heart. I was also able to find solace and even joy in the elation of so many around this country who are celebrating today.  One of the beauties and privileges of being human is that we have the great capacity to feel joy for others even when we may disagree with the cause of their celebration.  I thought of several people whom I know personally who had voted for Obama.  Suddenly, their joy became my joy.  Their hope became my hope.  My political policies (for what they are- I am not exactly a poli-sci major here) did not change in that instant.  But I realized that the vote is in, the die is cast.  We have a president, and I am choosing to stand behind him and to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Hatred and fear are more immobilizing than an astounding national deficit.  Love, acceptance, and compromise are the mobilizing forces we need.  This nation will sink or swim as it it destined to do, regardless of the actions of one man.  The question is, will we sink or swim together, or will we tear one another apart trying to scamper for our own place on the life raft?
     Red is such a beautiful color.  It is passionate and inspiring.  It can liven up any room or landscape with just a few small touches.  Blue is deep and soothing and enveloping.  Both colors are equally beautiful in different ways.  But, put them together, and you get the most beautiful of all colors; purple.  When I look at my children and think about what the future may hold for them, I realize that I don't want them to live in a nation divided by petty differences.  My hope for them is that they will one day live in a purple nation, one in which we are all working together, despite our individual differences, toward a brighter future, but, more importantly, toward a kinder world.