The Empty Chair : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

The Empty Chair

By Jo Mathis

(The Ann Arbor News, 11/21/00)

Thank God there's still one commercial-free holiday. So far we're not plagued with cuddly, talking pilgrims or Thanksgiving catalogs filled with stuff nobody needs. You don't have to buy anything but the bird, and even that's as low as 47 cents a pound with an additional purchase.

The fourth Thursday in November is still all about family. It's families getting together and sitting down to one ridiculously huge meal with a bunch of people connected by blood or marriage, for better or worse.

But let's face it. What sounds like a Norman Rockwell moment may feel like an episode from The Twilight Zone. Your mother can drive you nuts with that critical glare of hers, while your rather cold father would rather watch football than catch up on your life. Your sister still has that superior way about her, and just once you'd love to hear your brother say something nice about you, even if it's just the way you make sweet potato pie.

And then there are your kids. Just once wouldn't it be great if they actually offered to help in the kitchen? If they cleaned up their rooms when they knew guests were coming? If they could at least pretend to be civil to your elderly aunt?

Nobody can push those buttons quite like the people who know us best. And that's why Thanksgiving can sometimes be an emotionally difficult day. All those people. All those little issues.

Ten days ago, three Chelsea (Michigan) families and countless friends lost three wonderful high school seniors in a car accident. I doubt if any of us who are parents could quite stop thinking about the cruel way death can snatch young, healthy people -- just like that.

One moment, three beautiful girls were sitting in a warm van on their way home from a football game. The next moment they were dead or dying on the ground.

It was yet another time when we had to think: That could have been me, or my daughter, who zoned out for a moment behind the wheel. That could have been me, or my daughter sitting in the back seat of a mini van, planning what she was going to do when she got home the instant before she was thrown from the van to her death.

And surely this is another one of those times when we realized how we take so much for granted, as if we have a right to things, as if it will always be this way.

I know I'm not the only one wondering how those families will get through the day Thursday, with one less person at the table.

Meanwhile, we'll sit down at our own tables and nit-pick, squabble and whine over nonsense. We'll cling to old grudges, nurse old wounds, refuse to forgive because, after all, we were right.

I can't quite forget the image of Jennifer Young's mother looking in her closet for just the right outfit to bury her only daughter in, and not rememnering which pair of khakis she said was her favorite. Jennifer had just told her the other day. And now she had to choose the right pair, and it was so frustrating because she didn't know and she couldn't ask her this or anything else ever again.

I wanted to run and grab my daughters and never let them out of my sight. Because that could have been me. And I wouldn't be nearly as strong.

I also was struck by something Amanda Martin's father told me. "There were no unresolved issues," he said, nothing that his family took a lot of comfort in that. Nothing that needed to be said was left unsaid. The hugs were given. The time, invested. Amanda had faith, and practiced it. She had talents, and used them. There were no issues unresolved.

And so the Martins could bury their daughter with heavy hearts, but no regrets. Nor are they asking themselves: Why? They're leaving that up to God, confident that one day they will be reunited in a perfect place, where there are no accidents, nor tears, nor pain.

I believe that, too.

And I believe that a lot of us on Thursday would be smart to take care of those unresolved issues that are only weighing us down. This could mean finally addressing a dispute that was never really settled, or asking forgiveness for something you think was no big deal but obviously hurt someone else.

It could mean nothing more than saying to yourself: So what? So your mother is set in her ways and a little cranky. So what? So your father inherited his father's pessimism. So what? Grandma can never remember your kids' names, much less their birthdays? You try being 89. Move on.

It could mean putting an arm around the teen-ager who sometimes drives you nuts, and letting him know you're happy beyond words that despite those maddening moments, he's here and healthy and in your life.

It's time to quit being petty. Because none of us knows when there will be one less place at the table.

-- eve (, November 22, 2000


A bump, just so this message doesn't get buried amongst all the political news coming in.

-- eve (, November 22, 2000.

Good one eve.

I remember the story of those 3 girls. Such a tragedy that it made the news down here.


-- Deano (, November 22, 2000.

Thanks, Deano. The news was upsetting enough, and shocking. But I cried when I read this piece. And again when I was trying to type it in.

-- eve (, November 22, 2000.




-- al-d (, November 22, 2000.


This is a hard thread to comment on. You’ve flushed the bogeyman from his hiding place in a dark closet of our mind, and we simply can’t bear to look him in the eyes.

For most of us on this forum, there is no real threat of going hungry next year; no fear of cold, of thirst, of homelessness. We exist in a world of luxury and bounty that most of the earth’s peoples can only imagine. We have every kind of store, stocked with every kind of commodity, and we have adequate money to partake of them, or we have opportunity to increase in prosperity.

We have law-givers and law-keepers. We don’t have to send a child to fetch water, wondering if someone will bring back his broken or dead body. For the most part, we know we are protected from cons, scams, and even inferior products. We have the finest medical personnel and facilities the world has ever known, as well as great institutes of knowledge and learning.

We manipulate our environment in the most fantastic ways, simply for comfort. We exploit the resources of the earth for simple indulgence. We, for the most part, are masters of our own lives, and of our world.

But there is one fact of our lives that alludes our best efforts to be controlled, to be conquered by our material abundance, shackled by our gods of intellect or technology. The death of a child, a loved one, or even, of ourselves, is a specter that must be faced and accepted eventually by us all. If we’re human, we feel the loss of three beautiful teenagers. If we’re compassionate, we mourn for lost innocence. If we’re visionary, we are saddened by unnecessary loss of life, whether in our town, or in some remote village on the other side of the earth.

If we’re spiritual, we give thanks for what we have, and for what we have been spared.

As fellow travelers upon this ever-shrinking orb, we should all be aware of the empty chairs at our table.


Thank you, eve, for bringing this to my mind, and for making me a little more thankful today.


-- Lon Frank (, November 22, 2000.

Thank you Eve, for helping us remember how special each day is. And thank you Lon for your beautifully written response. It is indeed, a time to remember those we love.

-- Aunt Bee (, November 23, 2000.

al-d, Lon and AB,

You're very welcome. And thanks for your kind words.


A wonderful, thought-provoking post. Thank you.

-- eve (, November 25, 2000.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ