Thanksgivings are memorable for many different reasons. It’s not the food that sticks in my hippocampus, although there are lots of food memories associated with Thanksgiving. And it’s not the football, although I have become a reluctant supporter of those poor Detroit Lions. It’s not the weather, although I have stories about crisp, cold days, missed flights due to snow storms and delayed arrivals that come to mind. Nor is it the table setting, although there is always a pull to bring out the good china and silver. No, what makes Thanksgiving memorable for me is family.
Over the years, “family” has taken on different definitions ranging from my nuclear family (small), to extended family (large), to friends and then my husband’s children and their children. When I was in college, it involved being taken in by Professor’s families, and when I was first on my own, sharing the meal with other “orphans” whose families were far away. As I have grown older, the gatherings have included distributing meals for those who had no families, carving birds and readying plates for homeless folks, and in the past few years, as a guest at friend’s tables as I am once again single.
My rituals of this holiday have changed over the years. Some in format (I prefer the “old” Macy’s Day Parade with emphasis on marching bands instead of lip-synced performances in front of the store), some in what I watch on TV (since my husband died, I haven’t watched football at all), and some in who I connect with (making phone calls to relatives and friends is my favorite part of the holiday!). But the key ritual – giving Thanks – remains central to my enjoyment.
My memories this year are mostly happy, remembering as I do good food, loving family and friends and those who are no longer around. I miss my husband’s stuffing, my mother’s voice and her chatty descriptions of her day, and I miss the focused busyness of preparing a special meal and having people over to share it.
2020 is different. I miss the feelings of security and predictability that celebrating Thanksgiving offers. COVID has imposed itself in such a way that while I believe I am safe, my heart breaks for those who I know are in harm’s way, either because they are sick themselves or are caring for others. While I am blessed with ample food on my table and easy procurement of special things, I am deeply aware of the struggles faced by those whose circumstances force them to do things differently. While I am blessed with many friends and acquaintances, I am all too aware of those who are suffering because they cannot be with their loved ones or do not feel connected to a source of love.
I will be by myself this Thanksgiving out of choice. Because I have a lifetime of memories and deep and abiding connections with extraordinary friends and loved ones, living and dead, I will not be alone. I have a sense of hope that springs from knowing that the collective vision and actions of good minds and hearts are working ceaselessly to understand COVID and unravel its code. I have faith that all peoples and nations will find ways to confront their difficulties and learn new and kinder ways to share in the bounty that is available if we just give up our need to be right. For this and so much more, I give thanks.
May you find these things at your table in abundance today. Happy Thanksgiving.