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  • Karl Thunemann

Finding Gratitude in a Friend’s Homecoming

A bowl of freshly picked Italian prunes marked the late August meeting of the “Being Mortal” group at our senior co-op. Ever so slightly dusty, they were exquisite. We could have devoted our gathering to the contemplative appreciation and tasting of this humble yet marvelous fruit. Sure, we appreciated and consumed it, but we had mortality to discuss.

Mortality is never far from our thoughts, living in a community where the average age is well above 80. Morning creakiness is nearly universal. And not infrequently we are reminded of mortality by the passing of some neighbors, and by the reluctant decision of others to leave in search of more extensive care.

Yet in the moment, we had the fruit! The woman who brought it had picked the prunes that morning in the backyard of the house where she had lived for nearly 50 years. As a gift, the prunes marked compatibility and gratitude between buyer and seller, an appreciation for her stewardship over the decades. At our co-op, the prune lady and her husband have already put a lasting mark on the grounds and facilities of our four-acre site.

I find myself wondering why the festival of the prunes still possesses me. Is it just one of those digressive obsessions?

I felt the pang of sorrow for my lack of such palpable ties to places where my wife and I have lived. We did leave some marks: A marvelous honey locust tree we planted in the front yard to mark my wife’s 40th birthday is still impressive, 36 years later. But we never really owned this house; it owned us. It was old and demanded a constant dedication neither of us could provide. We had to sell and downsize.

In many ways we loved the townhouse where we lived for 22 years, especially the “miracle” madrona tree in the backyard. During the great Inauguration Day storm of 1993, this tree was virtually decapitated by a falling Douglas fir. The main branch was severed; a secondary branch was hanging by a shred. The madrona rallied, generating a splendid new dominant branch. But we can’t go back to visit. We sold during a sudden spurt in real estate prices—to an investor who lived in Japan.

Several weeks later, I find myself wondering why the festival of the prunes still possesses me. Is it just one of those digressive obsessions that I promised in an earlier epistle? Not quite—I think it’s relevant, though I still claim my right to take you on the occasional toot of digression.

I found healing in the festival of the prunes. Instead of regretting lost ties to the past, I can regain them through a vicarious appreciation of my neighbor’s good fortune and generosity. For that I am profoundly grateful.

And I think I am on the threshold of expanding my understanding of meditation. Daily life—with all its passions, commitments, rituals and chronic regrets—just might constitute a meditation, even if we choose not to describe it as such. I’ll have to stick with this idea, for all its intrigue and intimidation. May I revisit it—with gratitude—in a subsequent epistle.


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