Admitting the Strange Angels at Thanksgiving

Something happened last night at my church‘s Thanksgiving potluck celebration that was completely ordinary, but struck me deeply with it’s extraordinariness. Every year, on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, our community gathers for a meal together, which always tastes way better than you would imagine church food to taste. There is terrible wine but we drink it anyway, and we laugh and celebrate one another. For many of the older folks in our congregation, it is the only Thanksgiving dinner they’ll celebrate.
This year, I decided to add another layer to the celebration and create a “Tree of Gratitude” for us to share all the things we’re grateful for. One of my High School friends helped me create the construction paper tree, and more of my teenage friends and I cut out leaves for people to write what they’re thankful for on, and stick up on the wall.

Our Tree of Gratitude

About halfway through the meal, our resident collector of stray souls, Robert, came in with a girl none of us had ever seen before. There were lots of new people there, but we could tell by this girl’s mannerisms that she didn’t expect to end up at a group potluck that night. She followed Robert to the table laid out with every kind of Thanksgiving fixing we could come up with, a shock of carnelian pink hair peeking out from behind the big hoodie her face was swimming in.
Once she had her food, she found a seat on the end of a full table and started chowing down. Every once in awhile she looked up with those shifting eyes that say “Don’t talk to me. Please come talk to me! Oh God, what if someone comes to talk to me? Ugh, what if they don’t?” No stranger to this ocular communication, I walked over, introduced myself, made a name tag for her: let’s call her Dash.
At a certain point in the night, I asked my High School friends to read out all the leaves on the tree. Some got laughs (having an excellent pair of slippers), some got cheers (Obama being reelected, the Giants winning the World Series), and many were moving, as they were about love, old and new, between siblings, partners, children, and friends.
I went over afterwards to check in with Dash, to make sure she got a slice of my homemade pumpkin pie. “It’s not very pretty, but I assure you that it’s going to taste great.” I had donated another of these pies to a similar celebration at my husband’s work, and it didn’t get eaten, it was so ugly! But Dash didn’t seem to mind the fact that it looked like Sloth’s face — she piled it on her plate.
She handed me the leaves she’d written, so I could add them to the tree, even though we’d read them out already. “I ran out of space, so I used two – can you tape them together?” I brought them over and affixed them with the requisite amount of tape. Getting closer to see the small writing, I read, “I’m grateful that God loves me just as I am, even when I don’t deserve it. I’m thankful for the kind faces and warm food that welcomed me in this church, on my darkest night.”
Tears sprang to my eyes, and I felt grateful for Dash, as well. We have folks who have nowhere else to go at our church all the time, but what was different about this experience, what made it glow with the beauty of holiness, is that she accepted, and had a chance to tell us what it meant to her to be welcomed by us.
I said to myself, “Dash was our Jesus tonight.” I have long held to the belief that I should be kind to everyone I meet, as they could be an angel in disguise. I fail at this every single day, but in the moments that I somehow tap into it, I never cease to find Jesus there. I mean, aren’t we all just flesh and bone that flickers with the Godhead within us? Dash’s visit reminded me of when Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40).
I hesitate to blow this out of proportion, to make it anything more than it was — a warm meal and a connection with a young woman on a night in which she was lonely. I don’t know what Dash’s life will be like from here on out. But I feel that mine will be changed by meeting her.
On my way out, Dash was outside, smoking on the stoop and waiting for the AA Meeting to start (thank God/dess for AA Meetings on Thanksgiving Eve!). “Your pie was amazing. It was better than any of the others in there, the ones that looked perfect.” I was pleased that she thought so — it confirmed my suspicion that Dash and I are both people who like things a little imperfect, a little bit patchwork, yet still glowing with goodness from within.

“What is the knocking?
What is the knocking at the door in the night?
It is somebody wants to do us harm.

No, no, it is the three strange angels.
Admit them, admit them.”

~DH Lawrence

12 thoughts on “Admitting the Strange Angels at Thanksgiving

  1. Tears of recognition and thanks. You remind me why I’m alive and one of the reasons is so I can read your awesome posts! Grattitude to you…keep sharing your words…~they are magical~ Peace and LOve to you.

  2. Thank you so much Rhea. You amaze me and are amazing. Yes, thank goodness for 12 step meetings on Thanksgiving—and every day. But more to the point for me when reading your blogs is that you are the angel sent to us at Holy Innocents that can see the true light that some of us have stopped seeing or expecting to see. You are alive and vibrant and better yet can write about it, dance about it, cook about it and share with those who need your love. I am so glad for you and for your lovely family. But tonight reading your blog I am just giving thanks for you and your words. And your presence. Thank you, Rhea.
    I love you so much. Genie

    • Thank you, Genie. I have to give all the credit to Robert, without whom I never would have even met Dash. He is so incredible at inviting people in to our community in a no-nonsense way that puts folks in need at ease. I love going to a church where we really live out the hymn we sing, “ALL are welcome.”

  3. This is such a heart warming story. I just posted recently about my own family and their losing sight of what Thanksgiving is supposed to be. It’s good to know not everyone just sees it as an excuse to eat a ton of food.

  4. Well, the food is great, and we did eat quite a bit… but no, we were definitely aware of the gratitude aspect of it. I’m glad to hear it was inspiring to you!

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