I know several families who, after Thanksgiving dinner, go around the table and invite each person to share something for which they are thankful. My family never adopted this tradition, perhaps because it likely would have led to my brother attempting to one-up one another with snide humor. Even the most sincere Thanksgiving table ritual, however, would be challenged to take-in the power of story Rev. Ingrid Rasmussen shares today. I’m so thankful for her words, for her friendship, and for the life of my good buddy, Paul.
Adam J. Copeland, Director
Center for Stewardship Leaders
For this, I give thanks
by Rev. Ingrid C. Arneson Rasmussen
“Disasters begin suddenly; they never exactly end. You might be cured of your cancer, but you can never again be the person who never had cancer.” –Rebecca Solnit
My husband Paul suffered a sudden cardiac arrest eight months ago. We were out for a lovers’ meal. After an appetizer and a few sips of our martinis, he collapsed and died.
Strangers sprang into action. They did chest compressions while I administered breaths and begged. Nine minutes felt like nine years. First responders came with clear minds and paddles and shocked my 34-year-old, otherwise healthy, love back to life. The ambulance whisked Paul away. A kind waitress drove me to the hospital.
Well-meaning people have asserted that my whole life must have changed on the floor of that unfamiliar restaurant. Though reminders were unnecessary, though they were right. This experience did flip mental switches I didn’t even know were there for the flipping. These past months, I have done the hard work of tracking down the memories and tucking them in different drawers for safekeeping.
Doing so has allowed me to wear the trauma in a way that encourages life rather than standing in the way of it. At first the trauma felt like a bag over my head — hot, sticky, and stale. Over time it morphed into what I described as an ill-fitting winter coat with a broken zipper — uncomfortable and cumbersome, especially when I needed to remove it in public. Now I liken trauma’s abiding presence in my life to a fanny pack — as handy as it is unbecoming. It is a rich source of empathy. It occasionally gets in the way of everyday activities. I am learning to live with this new reality strapped to my side, which is necessary because I can never again be the person who did CPR on the one I love most.
This piece is supposed to be about giving thanks. If I were into easy answers, I would simply say I am thankful that my husband is alive and well — that he got up this morning, walked the dog, and made the coffee, all before my toes touched the cold bedroom floor. I am exceedingly grateful for these things, of course. My brain still interprets each of them as a tiny miracle.
There is an even deeper sense of gratitude, however, that arises when I think of the many people who have bravely pulled Paul and me from the grave — literally and metaphorically — these past eight months. The list is long and includes the strangers at the restaurant, the waitress in the car, and the ER aide with a glass of water; the congregants who baked lemon bars, the widows who knowingly patted my arm and said very little, and the friends who tugged the coat when I could not get out of it alone; the bishop, the counselors, and the family members who were willing to go into the deep with us because they knew we had nowhere else to go.
Solnit was right: disasters begin suddenly, and they never exactly end. But we do not face them alone. For this, I give thanks.
Check out the rest of the Giving Thanks series:
A Gratitude Campaign by Catherine Malotky
Stewardship in the Shadow of the Shema by Raymond Bonwell
The Ancient Art of Thanking by Robert Hay, Jr.
Gratitude and the Simplicity Movement by Adam J. Copeland
Ingrid C. Arneson Rasmussen is a pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. Ingrid grew up in a small town in Southwest Minnesota as the daughter of a church organist, which meant that she spent more than her fair share of time under the organ pipes on Saturday nights. It’s there that her curiosity about the intersection of faith, the church, and public life began. Years of study combined with her work in a free health care clinic led her into ordained ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She cannot imagine a better life’s call. Ingrid lives in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis with her husband, Paul, and their firstborn Golden Retriever, Freya.