This year I”m thankful in all the usual ways.
But it’s the unusual that has me writing in the midst of tomorrow’s meal preparations. The work can wait but this urge to grow still cannot. I feel the need to sit down and gather my thoughts and name my feelings that tug at my heart, to write words that will become a prayer of thanksgiving to God for my brother Jon.
It is a crazy sort of grace that the year’s Thanksgiving toast goes to Jon, who has been in and out of drug addiction for more years than I wish to count, but who is now in recovery. Two years and counting. To no longer associate Jon with drug addiction through Pavlovian response makes me shake my head in wonder. It is pure gift to not worry about Jon working his recovery program, though I know Jon has no such luxury. Jon can never let down his guard, Jon can never believe he’s healed from his drug addiction, if he wishes to do “good” and be “good”‘.
So what does “good” look like? Do good acts cause a person to become good when others say so — when a person has jumped through enough hoops or spoken all the right words? Or does goodness arise in the heart of one doing good, as if the good acts themselves are some sort of mysterious medicine to heal whatever is broken. Perhaps it is both; I know it would be hard for me to believe in my own goodness if others did not.
Like all of us, even the biblical saints like Paul, Jon did not do the good he wanted to do, and instead did the evil he did not want to do. This is the human condition. I don’t acknowledge this truth to excuse or sugar-coat Jon’s bad choices. But it would be evil to not confess that we all slide up and down the good and bad continuum, that we are all broken in some form or fashion, that we are all a mixed bag of good and evil.
Jon is not the same Jon as before. That would be impossible; the Jon before drug addiction is buried under the new face Jon wears, the one who has learned and helped us learn about the power of drugs to destroy and disintegrate relationships and businesses and credit ratings and good reputation and hope. The one who had to learn how to survive life in prison.
Yet there is a part of Jon that has survived all the drugs and destruction. Maybe this is the part of Jon that is eternal and real, I don’t know. But if I can call it this, then the real and eternal part of Jon is the one who can still make me laugh. The one who is generous with self, possessions and forgiveness. The one who takes our father to the potty with Daddy’s dignity still intact. The one who, since being released from prison, faithfully calls his two daughters twice a week and who is now paying monthly child support payments. The one who is even making child support payments for an illegitimate son he has never met, conceived on one of his many stints in a drug recovery program. Maybe someday Jon will be able to meet George.
Last Thanksgiving, well actually it was the day after since the prison unit was locked down on Thursday, I brought Jon a paper plate loaded with Thanksgiving goodies. This year Jon and I will spend Thanksgiving the way it’s suppose to be spent in all the best stories with happy endings. We will spend it surrounded by family and friends in a home filled with lovely smells of roasted turkey and dressing and yeast rolls and the click-clack of silverware and the five different snippets of conversation all going on at once.
A new day breaks in my brother’s life and I pray, oh Lord, I don’t know what to pray. But tomorrow is Thanksgiving. And I am thankful that my brother Jon and I will break bread and celebrate our brokenness together.