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A grateful send-off

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There is so much in this world to be grateful for, and sometimes, the words "thank you" fall short.

Jaymie Stuart

It's funny how change or loss can make us appreciate things we don't usually consider worthy of our attention. When I came back to Massachusetts after a year away, I noticed all the changes immediately. The Woburn Mall, where my mom and many of our kids worked, had mostly been torn down: only the Market Basket and CVS remain. A nearby intersection had been redesigned and a new building had gone up. Of course I didn't really expect things to stay the way I remembered them forever. But maybe in some way, I did; that's probably why it felt so jarring. Eventually, the landscape of our memories disappears and what we do with that reality matters.

Tomorrow, the new billion dollar New Orleans airport terminal will open. Open houses, news reports, speeches and ribbon cutting ceremonies have been held over the past week in anticipation of the event. But today, something interesting -- and very typical of New Orleans -- happened.

As some of the last passengers prepared to fly out of the old MSY, locals orchestrated a "second line" to bid the 60-year-old terminal farewell. A second line is a joyful procession, complete with brass jazz band, fringed umbrellas, and colorful dress. It's a hallmark of the traditional New Orleans jazz funeral, and strangely akin to the old fashioned Boston Irish wake. Grieving close friends and family accompany the body of the deceased in the funeral procession's first line. The second line is everyone else: a crowd of grateful people who gather to celebrate the memory of someone who enriched their lives by contributing to the community.

The airport second line paraded through the concourses of the old Louis Armstrong terminal with live music, revelers, and even someone dressed in an elaborate Louis Armstrong costume. The final farewell was reported by local news, because in New Orleans, it just isn't possible to let someone or something significant pass away without a proper send off, without the opportunity to express gratitude.

There is so much in this world to be grateful for, and sometimes, the words "thank you" fall short. That's especially true when it comes to things we routinely take for granted -- like the places we live and work, the food we eat, and the people we encounter in everyday life. Now and again, all the gifts we have received and all the reasons we have to be thankful inspire us to write a thank you note or do something special to express appreciation. But usually it takes something more.

There are times life knocks us out of the cloud of our self-centeredness and puts us in touch with how much we have to be thankful for. Circumstances or surroundings change. We become hard of hearing. We suddenly miss something we never thought of as important. We lose someone whose life made our own better.

I'm not sure second-lining could ever catch on anywhere else, but the spirit behind it ought to. When we learn to truly give ourselves to others -- and receive the gift that others are -- there is always a reason to celebrate. We are more connected than we know. The roads and bridges we travel, the grocery store checkout lines we wait in, the schools our children attend, the parishes and post offices -- and yes, airport terminals -- we gather in and pass through are the shared settings for our common life.

As winter approaches and leaves and temperatures fall, it's good to take stock of all our blessings: those that have passed and those we still enjoy. Seasons change and nothing remains the way we remember it. But we can give each gift the tribute it deserves, open our umbrellas, and strut together down the street. We can second-line through life in gratitude and joy, until we ourselves pass beyond earth's horizon and others gather to remember us.

- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.

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