The Further Adventures of mmm

Trip journal, musings, updates on my life

Friday, November 18, 2011

It’s Not Just About the Giving

Thirteen years ago, I was diagnosed with uterine cancer. I got the diagnosis and in less than three weeks, I had a total hysterectomy. I wasn’t able to have laparoscopic surgery, so the recovery was slow. Nonetheless, the cancer was completely contained and subsequently removed in one surgery, no follow-up treatment. That was it: bye-bye cancer, hello life!

I was so thankful to be cancer-free and grateful to be alive that I felt like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life—George towards the end of the movie, when he’s running around Bedford Falls yelping with delight at every little mundane detail of his narrow, small-town life. I lived in Boston at the time, so my life wasn’t small-town, but it certainly was full of mundane details, for which I was suddenly extremely grateful. Here’s my morning paper. Isn’t it wonderful? My cat just yawned. How great is that? You get the idea.

Thanksgiving arrived about five weeks after my surgery. I had invited a slew of my closest friends to come to my place to celebrate with me. People offered to bring things, but I turned them down. This was going to be my big Thank You to the people who had been there for me as I went through the diagnosis, the prognosis, the surgery, the good news, and the recovery.

On Thanksgiving Day, my house was filled with music and laughter. The turkey was in the oven, stuffed and basted. Pies were cooling on the rack. The tables had been covered and set. The makeshift bar was open, and the people had gathered and were mingling. It was all very festive.

Then, an hour before dinner was to be served, I sat down on a chair in the kitchen, exhausted and overwhelmed. I hadn’t been on my feet that long since I’d had my surgery. The music on the stereo was too loud, and people in the living room were laughing too much. Why had I invited all these people to my house anyway? What was I thinking? I wished they would all go home. I could just tell them I wasn’t well, and then they would disappear.

Maybe it was the way I was holding my head in my hands. Maybe it was the fact that the water for the potatoes was boiling away, with no potatoes in sight. Or maybe it was the fact that I was no longer responding to friendly inquiries of “Anything I can do?” with “No, I’ve got everything under control.”

Suddenly a band of about six people set to work in my kitchen. One person started prepping vegetables. Another volunteered to take over the gravy making. Two more of my guests set to peeling potatoes, cutting them up, and watching over them until they were ready to be mashed. Then one of them mashed the darned things!

Another guest volunteered to see that drinks were topped off and to clean up the remains of the hors d’oeuvres. Then miraculously the turkey was carved, the sides were assembled, rolls were warmed and placed in napkin-lined baskets, and everyone sat down for the feast, including me. That’s right. Instead of running around the kitchen doing last-minute things, I was sitting at the table along with my guests.

As I looked at the friends and family gathered at my table, I realized that thankfulness wasn’t something delivered, solo, in response to tasks already accomplished. As I raised my wine glass to propose the Thanksgiving toast, I knew that what I was grateful for were the give-and-take relationships that enriched my life, the love that allowed me to accept help when I needed it, and the loved ones who provided it willingly and affectionately.

As the years have gone by, I confess that I haven’t always been able to sustain that post-cancer joyous feeling of a life renewed, but one thing I don’t think I’ll ever lose sight of is my appreciation of the give and take of loving relationships. Thanks to all those dear friends and family who supported me then and those who continue to make my life wonderful, I’ve learned that thankfulness is also about the taking. When that hand reaches out to you, take it and say, “Thank you.”


  • At 11:04 PM, Anonymous Sarah G said…

    I love you!

  • At 11:22 PM, Blogger mmm said…

    I love you too, sweet Sarah! I can't wait to bask in your family's love this Thanksgiving!

  • At 1:42 PM, Anonymous rose said…

    MMM: You have always been able to articulate your appreciation of affection, warmth and friendship in a way that most people cannot. You are a wonderful person with a relentless and infectious joy of life. And I'm thankful to be a witness.

  • At 11:44 PM, Blogger mmm said…

    Thanks, Rose. Reconnecting with you definitely goes in the Very Thankful column. xo, Sr. Mary Margaret

  • At 6:53 PM, Anonymous Duke said…

    Sr. Mary...back atcha...this old man has been blessed beyond measure by our long friendship. Remember your first night home from the hospital? The patient wanted fried chicken, mashed pots and gravy and that's what she got! It was a joyous feast. You are a very special person and I love you like a rock oh baby! Earl J.


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