A place at the table for Thanksgiving orphans

Cal Beverly

[Editor’s note: This column was first published Nov. 26, 2014.]

I have a Thanksgiving story. It happened in 2012.

A few days after receiving a new lens in my eye to correct a clouding condition called cataracts, I awoke on a Saturday morning just before Thanksgiving to find my newfound sharp vision in that eye had gone blurry.

There was no pain, just blurry where there had been sharpness. I panicked. Why do emergencies mostly happen after hours or on weekends, when your regular doctor is nowhere to be found?

My wife drove me to the on-call doc, an optometrist in a shopping strip on Ponce DeLeon Avenue, near where the old Sears building stands.

The waiting room was a hallway at the back of the optical shop with four or five chairs scooted up against the wall. A slight white guy in his 40s sat three chairs over from a black lady in her 60s. They were talking about recipes for their Thanksgiving meals. Joyce and I sat between them while I waited for the doc to see me.

I was preoccupied with my eye problem. I was praying silently, “Lord Jesus, heal my eye, give me back that amazing sharpness of vision that I have enjoyed for just a few days.”

I wondered what had happened to take back the first nearly perfect sight that I had experienced without glasses since I was about 7 or 8 years old. I was worried what the doc would find. Would I have to re-do the exquisitely delicate surgery? Would I get that sharpness back?

My fellow waiters, on the other hand, including my wife Joyce, were having a high old time talking about favorite holiday meals, the excitement of cooking for a crowd, the warm memories of food on other tables.

I tried to add something positive to their dining chatter. I mentioned oyster dressing as well as ham and asparagus rolls. Just then the doc called me back.

Nervously I stared into the bright light. “You’ve got a pair of scratches across your cornea,” he said. “It will heal in a few days and your eyesight will be good as new.” We determined that a hard eyepatch, undoubtedly rubbed by me during the night, had caused the injury. Ditch the eyepatch, he suggested. He told me to go back to the waiting room until he could write a prescription.

Now the only chair open was beside the guy. I sat down and, feeling relieved about my eye, struck up a conversation with him about his Thanksgiving plans.

I wish I could have recorded it, but I will tell you the best I can remember.

He was at the eye doctor to pick up a prescription for glasses, a chore that had interrupted his shopping for the yearly Thanksgiving feast planned by him and his partner.

I had suspected that he was gay, but now he was telling me about what he liked and didn’t like about his partner, but gently, more like an explanation, not a complaint.

“You should see his closets,” he said. “Not only is everything perfectly aligned, but every color is separated. He is the most obsessive-compulsive person I’ve ever met. I mostly just live with it, but sometimes it gets to me, because I am not a neat nut, and that drives him crazy. I asked him one time, ‘Why do you do this?’ And he said, ‘You don’t think I want to be this way, do you?’”

“So, tell me about your Thanksgiving,” I said.

And he did. Every year, the two of them have a tradition known to many in their neighborhood. They produce a free, open-door Thanksgiving feast for as many as 50 or 60 people. People they’ve never met — men and women — throng into their small, crowded apartment and for a time, enjoy turkey and dressing and ham and casseroles and fresh-baked bread and desserts, visit for awhile, and then leave.

“They’re mostly gay,” he said quietly. “But not all of them.”

He knows some of them; after all, it’s a neighborhood tradition. But not all of them; some years not even most of them.

“It’s for the orphans,” he said. “They can’t go home for Thanksgiving. We call them our Thanksgiving orphans.”

If I have ever felt — felt in my bones — the love of God, I felt that love that moment. The love of God in me, the love of God through me, God’s overwhelming love for that orphaned gay man, the sweet, compassionate love of Christ through that man.

The doc called me in to get my prescription and instructions for caring for the eye. I didn’t get that man’s name or where he lived.

But I am sure that, if all is well with him and his partner, this Thanksgiving, some grown-up orphans will receive a feast of love for a little while. And for a little while, they will feel not so orphaned.

Do you know any orphans? Do you have room at your table for your orphans? I think God has enough love to spare some this Thanksgiving for our orphans — His love for them, through us.

From “The Book of Common Prayer” — “Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks for all your goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all whom you have made.

“We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.

“And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.”

[Cal Beverly is editor and publisher of The Citizen.]