By Sarah Carlson, Arts Editor
I Am The Enemy
The Thanksgiving that changed my life came in 2000.
Five years ago today on the rainy, bleak Saturday before Thanksgiving, I went to the grocery store to buy curl-enhancing shampoo and red lipstick and stood behind an old man in line, listening as he told me about days gone by.
I left with a smile on my face, but, when I arrived home, it quickly faded. I learned my best friend, Katie, had been in a car accident, and my father had rushed to her house to take care of her siblings while her mother went to the hospital. Soon, the call came: Katie was dead at age 16.
Hours later, when my youth minister was leaving my house and asked what song I would like sung at church the next day, I recommended “It is Well (With My Soul),” a favorite of Katie’s and mine.
I couldn’t sing a note of the song while the congregation sang “It is Well” the next day, or when my brother led it two days later at her graveside.
We buried her two days before Thanksgiving on a crisp, bright morning during my junior year of high school. The sky was bluer than normal, and the world seemed almost wrong to appear so beautiful on the day of a funeral.
Then Thursday, my family made the trip to my grandmother’s, where the extended family had been told of my loss, but no one really commented on it, save one of my cousins. After lunch, we all headed to the nursing home where my great grandmother was living.
At 94 years old, Ruth Tabitha Fitzgerald was older than Oklahoma, where she was born, only it was still Indian Territory at the time. Half Comanche, Gee Gee, as we call her, had lived a full life; her body was slowly giving out on her, but her spirit still lived.
When the family arrived at her room, sterile yet odor-filled, Gee Gee asked us to sing for her. Well, we wouldn’t be a normal Church of Christ family without someone having a pitch pipe and several copies of “Great Songs of the Church” in the back seat of the car, so we readily obliged.
She asked for her favorite song, “How Great Thou Art.” As we_-_brother, parents, grandparents, aunt, cousins and their spouses_-_sang, Gee Gee closed her eyes and raised her feeble hands in the air.
I had been in a state of shock since Katie’s funeral, but I began to cry as I considered the paradoxical nature of the two situations I had experienced during the past six days.
I had witnessed the tragic loss of life, unfair and incomplete, as I said goodbye to a girl whose life had barely begun. But, I had also seen the continuation of life in a woman who had experienced almost a century of change.
Two powerful hymns were sung and connected my experiences in so rich a way that I can’t distance the songs from the feelings. As I sat at the table that Thanksgiving, attempting a brave face while passing the mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, finding something to be thankful for was a long shot.
Nevertheless, I found comfort in the tradition of faith passed down to me and, somehow, saw how beautiful both situations were. Although much of that week was a blur, the moments spent singing in complete despair and in hopeful praise have stayed with me. Every time I hear “It Is Well,” I’m reminded of Katie.
Gee Gee is still going at 98, almost 99, and Katie has been dead five years. I’ve gone through milestones of high school graduation, turning 18, then 21 and now, coming in May, graduation from college_-_all things she never got to do.
My life was changed one sunny Thanksgiving, but through the years, the ability to say “It is well” no matter the situation and praising the sovereignty of God in both life and death has been a lesson hard learned.
The man in the grocery store line told me that what he had learned about life was that people are generally good, and life is worth living no matter what. Despite everything, I can’t help but agree with him.