He once said, “I’m beginning to feel like a cigarette with a body attached to it.” Born into extreme poverty toward the end of the Depression, early in life Raymond Carver found himself addicted to nicotine and alcohol. One of his biographers said that most of his life was a tornado: bankruptcies, booze, infidelity and divorce.
Carver got his act together around the time he turned 40. After three hospitalizations related to alcohol abuse, he joined Alcoholics Anonymous and stayed sober until he died of lung cancer at age 50. He died one of America’s foremost poets.
One of his last poems is my favorite. He named it “Last Fragment.” It is the sobering epitaph carved on his tombstone overlooking Port Angeles, Wash. He addresses this question to all souls: “And did you get what you wanted from this life, / even so? / I did. / And what did you want? / To call myself beloved, to feel myself / beloved on the earth.”
His poem “Gravy” is also etched on the tombstone. It begins, “No other word will do. For that’s what it was, / Gravy. / Gravy, these past ten years. / Alive, sober, working, loving, and / being loved by a good woman.” The poem ends, “I’m a lucky man. / I’ve had ten years longer than I or anyone / expected. Pure Gravy. And don’t forget it.”
Thanksgiving is meant to be a time when, beyond eating turkey, dressing and gravy, we count blessings. We sometimes use “gravy” to refer to those things we have above and beyond what we earned or even imagined. Raymond Carver died a grateful man. He believed he deserved to die 10 years earlier.
Do you have some blessings to count this Thanksgiving that are “pure gravy?” I do.