As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, I want to encourage us all: Be brave. Be quietly and extravagantly courageous. Be tenacious.
There is an unseen community among us at Thanksgiving, the community of those for whom the empty place at the table is the most visible one, even if no one else sees it.
We tend to think of courage as painted with huge, sweeping streaks of red and orange. Valor on the battlefield, triumph at the top of the mountain, arms flung wide at the finish line.
I want to suggest that courage is also represented by fragile, thin lines scratched across the canvas of life in pale hues, colors barely visible.
Thanksgiving courage is the mother whose inner heart trembles as she whips the potatoes in the kitchen, surrounded by the voices of women chatting about children home from college.
Thanksgiving courage is the dad outside tossing a football with the nieces and nephews as his mind replays his own child's last game a decade earlier.
Thanksgiving courage is the young girl who laughs with friends in the evening before returning home to the empty apartment.
Thanksgiving courage is the elderly man who walks his dog quietly down the street, gazing wistfully at the lighted living room windows and the driveways filled with cars in his neighborhood.
Thanksgiving courage is the four ladies in their nineties at the dining room table in the assisted living facility, talking quietly of family traditions long past and turning their faces resolutely toward Christmas, when children and grandchildren from California and New York will arrive for a few days.
Thanksgiving courage is the woman whose husband's disability precludes his ever coming home again, smiling gently as her friends talk over kitchen remodeling crises.
Thanksgiving courage is the parents who take dinner baskets to the families living at Ronald McDonald House, remembering their own holidays spent in cramped quarters far from home and hoping against hope for a miracle.
One of my friends once commented on her surprise at discovering, over and over again, that people whom she had envied as they talked about their trips, their homes, their super-sized grown-up toys, so often harbored silent stories of deep loss.
So: Be quietly and hugely brave out there in the grocery aisles and around the office water fountain and at the pre-holiday craft sales. Just do it.