The first time I heard about Thanksgiving, I was almost 18 years old.
Somehow, it never stuck fully with me. When my kids were little, they spent that day with their dad (an easy way for me to try and get first dibs on Christmas), and now, most years, I sort of forget about it until someone mentions it.
This year was no different, and just as I was getting invited to friends' lovely gatherings at home, something kept whispering in my ear to wait. Wait and see. Wait and see how life wants to play.
So I did. Mostly.
I looked into helping to serve meals in a homeless shelter, but this not being a hugely novel idea on Thanksgiving, there was no position to fill. My son (who is always up for an adventure) did a little research on Seattle gatherings and mentioned something about a large public meal - to which all the tickets were already given away. He also noticed the possibility of an evening feast at a Vedic temple, but could not find any more information about it. I loved the sound of that.
Wednesday evening arrived, and the phone rang. A close friend of ours, homeless for the last three months, was inviting us to spend time and share a meal with his people down in Seattle. Details such as exact location were yet to be ironed out, and we would figure that out in the morning.
A little more research gave us all the information we needed about the Vedic feast and pup in tow, off we went into a crisp, cold, and beautifully blue PNW day.
We had plans!
Two hours later, we were warmly welcomed into The Bread of Life Mission, a homeless shelter in Pioneer Square. The Bread of Life has been serving two hot meals a day since 1939, and while I have walked past its doors for more than thirty years, I had never been inside.
Stepping in felt like an honor, an exploration, and a bit of sacredness.
Sitting down to our meal on one of the many chairs that lined the long, warmly decorated table created a delicious heart and mind bend, inside of me. I could almost hear Life whispering in my ear: so ... you said you wanted to ... serve a meal here? Nah. I have something so much better for you. Enjoy.
We enjoyed the pile of delicious food that had been cooking for days. We enjoyed the turkey, the ham, the buttery mashed potatoes, the cranberry sauce, and the pumpkin pie with whipped cream. As soon as I finished my plate, I was asked if I wanted more. As I declined, I was filled with gratitude for being on the receiving end of this bounty. Filled with gratitude for the people I was sharing it with, especially. The ones I knew and the ones I knew less. Something in my heart was starting to swell and threaten to spill over, too. Something about the many meals I shared with refugees, a couple of years ago and that particular flavor of togetherness that is both hard to explain and harder to replicate.
I was happy to get back outside into the cold air.
The rest of the day was spent walking and exploring the city, eerily quiet and empty. Again, sacred.
When evening came, it was time for us to head East towards our next Thanksgiving.
The parking lot was full, as was the overflow parking lot. People were walking into the three-story-tall, PINK (pink) temple with kids, food, and all sorts of colorful clothing.
We did not look much like anyone there, and for a second, I almost suggested we turn around. Would we be invading? Would we, in helping ourselves to someone else's tradition, be somehow ... stealing?
Just then, as I was standing by the door, a man smiled at me and said, "Welcome!" in a lilting accent. I guess we were going in.
Inside was a joyous blend of colorful mayhem, celebration, and purpose. We found our way (or rather, followed the happy tide) towards the shoe room, where a sign asked that "shoes be please placed neatly on the racks." Having obviously overshot the capacity of the racks, shoes were strewn all over the place, and it occurred to me as I took off my boots, that I might be going home barefoot.
More smiles, more "welcome!" When asked where we came from, eyes got really big, as though we had traveled from another planet... "just for this."
Which would have been totally worth it.
Imagine a vast room, a very large banquet room. Except instead of tables and chairs, you have yoga mats. Lots of yoga mats, all lined up in little streets of goodness. On these mats, people are sitting cross-legged and eating the most delicious food, laughing, hugging, and humming along to the chanting that is coming through the speakers (more on this in a minute. Let's focus on the food, first). Twice, we heard a kid say: "someone stepped on my food!" - Which got us started on a fit of giggles.
We lined up (me, still wondering if this was okay), received more smiles, and were handed plates of the most delectable, unexplainable, Indian food. With pumpkin pie and whipped cream. I could have eaten three plates worth.
After eating, we sat there for a good while, our backs against a wall, smiling, and breathed it all in. The colors, the chaos, the joy, the families, the music. It was magical being part of it all and yet, of course, not fully part of it. Again, sacredness.
And this music, this chanting that was starting to makes its way into my cells... Costa was pretty sure this was live music, but we could not see its source. So we went exploring and found ourselves upstairs, in the actual temple room. The magnificent, holy and yet deeply accessible temple room. There, in this tall and beautiful place which I would not even hope to describe well enough, were kids running around and chasing each other, men praying, women talking, cow dung/chamomile soap available for sale, and ... the musicians. Three musicians who had been playing for hours now, including a young woman dressed in what looked like gold, who was - and had been - chanting and chanting and chanting. The three of them had created the background for all of us to eat and be fed by so much more than the food.
We sat on a soft rug and, once again, breathed it all in. Even now, if I close my eyes, I can hear the chant, and I can feel its calming effect on my cells.
Then we saw people lining up towards the enormous altar, as a man dressed in a simple white robe placed a gold hat on their heads and murmured words. It reminded me of communion in my early years in Catholic school, and I knew for sure that we were not to go up there. But I was wrong. A gentleman, maybe having heard my thoughts, approached us and said:" he is giving blessings. Go get a blessing."
So again ... we did.
On our way home, I was filled to the brim — heart, body, and soul.
We had been welcomed into two different, unique, and special communities. We had been fed in so many ways.
This is a Thanksgiving I will never forget.
Really, it was really more of a Thanksreceiving.
Here's to sometimes saying no, even though we are not sure what might be waiting for us on the other side of that no.
Here's to saying yes to being welcomed into new worlds, humbly and gratefully.
Here's to blessings, the words of which we may not understand, but which make their ways perfectly, nonetheless.