We will have to create some new traditions this Thanksgiving. I know one family that plans a visit to a sculpture garden that day. Another person is collecting books for a children’s library, and he’ll spend that morning pasting bookplates inside the front covers. The Franciscan Center at 101 West 23rd Street serves meals every week, and maybe you and a friend could lend a hand this year around Turkey-day? (https://fcbmore.org/get-involved/volunteer/) Or you could organize your neighbors to rake leaves as a group, or write letters to old friends, or buy groceries for the person behind you at the store? Listen carefully over the next few days to hear about someone who will be alone this year… If they have a computer or a cell phone, invite them to your table virtually, and then break bread together through the wonder of Zoom. It may feel awkward or silly at first, but if you let the limitations recede, you’ll be surprised how “normal” it feels to have Aunt Sue across the table on a screen. (An added bonus: you won’t have to eat those creamed onions she brings every year!)
Public health educators tell us that the holidays could wreak havoc with the virus. So, instead of inadvertently being part of a super-spreading event, we should spend Thanksgiving with our pod this year. Connect to your extended family over the phone instead of meeting them around a table; and if you do gather with a little group, do so outside, sitting six feet apart, and leave your masks on when you are not eating. Here’s an idea: invite your cousins to play a game virtually, setting up a board at the either end of the phone line and moving the pieces around for one another. Scrabble and Monopoly work well! Or save a few crossword puzzles and give each other clues on the phone, over pie. Or bust up the idea of a traditional meal altogether—maybe it’s too painful to face the empty chairs—so go on a bike ride or a hike or a long walk, instead. Then make something to eat that you would never associate with Thanksgiving, like tofu or chickpeas or lamb burgers, and buy a six-pack of local beer instead of choosing wine that goes with a bird.
In college I spent Thanksgiving with friends in upstate New York for several years. Decades before, in the early 50’s, the mom’s family lived in Brooklyn and welcomed a French exchange student to their home on the day before Thanksgiving. With little in the way of shared language, the family had to explain the holiday and its historical background in a matter of hours to a young woman from Nantes, who had no context for the large meal with distinctive foods, not to mention a way to understand the Macy’s parade. When words failed them, the family found themselves with their new friend on the streets of Brooklyn in makeshift costumes and cap-guns, wielding a pillowcase that had been painted to look like a turkey. They have never forgotten that hilarious pantomime, rooted in the need to foster welcome and create new traditions. What is the opportunity this year for you?
To me it feels like that day in long ago Brooklyn. Traditions seem strange. Words fail us. Loss is more familiar at our tables than friends or faraway loved ones. So we will have get to Thanksgiving by another road this year… Hang on, change is coming, and we are being born again. How will you get there? And when you get a glimpse of how it might be good, maybe you can share it with a stranger or a friend.
i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened (e.e. cummings)