Of Thanks and Windowsills

Students and staff gather for Thanksgiving dinner at Maugenhard boys' dorm.

Thanksgiving Day, American Literature Class.

I confess that many of my creative writing lessons come from reading McSweeney’s, a creative literary journal whose online concern usually contains well-crafted and humorous prose. The Open Letter of Thanks is one of those lessons, modified for the students of Ingraham and now Black Forest Academy, on the occasion of Thanksgiving. Remember what you’re thankful for today, I tell them, and then write to an object, a place, a moment, or other entity unlikely to respond, representing your gratitude today. Below, I’ve included mine. I have much to be thankful for, both within and beyond the classroom. My letter cannot cover this wealth of blessing, of course, but the Windowsill represents great contentment and peace on this Thanksgiving Day, 2011.

Open Letter to the Windowsill of Room 22 of the Janz Building

Dear Windowsill of JB 22,

Happy Thanksgiving! Being a windowsill, made mostly of cement, tile and wood, I don’t imagine you celebrate many holidays. Perhaps there are window holidays—the days when Mr. Leavitt makes us all clean the windows, right before school starts again—but I doubt it. I don’t have any illusions that you know what’s going on, most of the time. Still, I’m writing to you, of all things, because you, Windowsill, are symbolic of many of the things for which I find myself thankful today.

You, my Windowsill friend, remind me that I’m living an odd but lovely life. In no place in America, where I’m from, have I ever encountered a windowsill eighteen inches wide, with a radiator beneath it and two tall windows beside, the perfect height for sitting and daydreaming. I’m a teacher, yes, but an English teacher, which means that much of my job, when I’m not actually teaching classes, involves sitting and reading. And while Europe in general has a shocking shortage of couches, there are better places to sit, like this windowsill. From here, I can read Huckleberry Finn for hours and never get bored. I can stare out and ponder the odd tree in the courtyard, with half of its leaves off, and wonder what on earth the rest are doing, clinging to it with such fearful fervor.  Don’t they know that leaves are supposed to fall, that resurrection only comes after death? You, like this place and season of my life, are the catalyst of imagination and reflection, reminding me that life can change, deeply and even permanently, but that sometimes change brings surprises better than even I could imagine. 

As I sit on your cold tile, leaning back against a large green and small blue cushion that bought at Ikea this summer, I also remember that you, Windowsill, are friend to more than just me. How often your lure has drawn my students, tired or curious or thoughtful, to sit and read, sit and think, sit and write. For the last six years, I’ve begun each school year with a prayer for my classroom, that it would be a place of peace and safety. It was harder in Seattle, and more miraculous when it happened, when thirty-five of us would stop squealing and squirming for a moment to drink tea, to listen, to watch snow falling outside. But peace and safety are important everywhere, and here it’s quiet that we need. Our lives are so busy, Windowsill. I know you are not the ultimate Giver of rest, of course, but here you’re often the space for it. So I’m thankful today for your invitation to calm, both for me and for my students. We need it, for the coming weeks and years, a space to think, remember and be thankful.

Most Sincerely,

Kristi Dahlstrom

Thank you to all of you, near and far, this wide extended family of friends who have filled this year with love and joy. I thank God for you daily. Have a brilliant Thanksgiving!


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