2016-11-23 / Columns

Thanksgiving puts things into perspective like no other holiday


It’s here. The riotous preparations and rush of homecomings, the 19-pound turkey, the general happy mayhem—all will be taking center stage in our lives, and probably yours.

And we know that we’re among the lucky ones.

Our family will gather together at our oldest daughter’s house. Seven grandchildren will be at the table. That always adds to the chaos—and the enormous joy.

That old beast of burden, Jill’s antique dining room table, will be stretched to the limit. The oak leaves, some warped now, will be set into place in a battle with gravity and space. The family barely fits around that table these days. And that’s fine. We’d so much rather expand than contract.

We’ve had some heartaches—that’s part of being a family. We miss those whose absence at the table is a palpable presence. But again, loss is part of the dance of the generations.

We’ve been together through a truly difficult Presidential campaign that left some of us wounded. There are wars in distant places. Sometimes it seems that there is violence wherever we turn.

Like people in Kansas and California, Kentucky and Idaho, people we had never met or known across this great nation, we will pray for a better future for this ragged old Planet Earth.

We’re not a cockeyed optimist kind of family. We don’t always see the glass half-full. But something shifts at Thanksgiving that turns us into dreamers, hopers, copers.

This year at our Thanksgiving table, we’ll be thinking of all that as we look around at the faces we know so well, and dig into dishes that have taken on a life of their own, almost as family members. If anyone dares to change the sweet potato with marshmallows dish, there will be an outcry. If the stuffing doesn’t have the requisite chestnuts, there will be mutiny.

This holiday, more than most, fortifies us, nourishes us beyond the calories, and puts into perspective all that is contained in that single word “Thanksgiving.”

We always spend some time reminiscing about holidays past, getting misty, nostalgic and overly sentimental. But as desperately as we try to cling to the past, it slips away. Things never really stay the same.

The old family home where we gathered for 28 years is no longer the family home. The “new” one—14 years and counting—still hasn’t earned the patina of beloved familiarity.

Since last Thanksgiving, one daughter has looked back on a Bat Mitzvah in a blizzard. And somehow, that memory is now one we all regard as a family badge of honor.

We are now a three-dog family, which may not sound like much, but it is to us. Maggie, Archie and Rosie have definitely found a place with us, and will be skulking around the Thanksgiving table begging for donations. There will be mixed opinions about what constitutes a doggie Thanksgiving feast.

There have been joys for us, and disappointments and setbacks great and small in the year that stretched between Thanksgiving 2015 and Thanksgiving 2016.

There have been moments of pain and loss. And plenty of reasons for a swell of gratitude.

The images rush:

Another family camp experience in upstate Pennsylvania where we discovered the pleasures of the primitive.

I have work that gives my life meaning, good health, friends who care enough to forgive me when I lose my way, or lose touch, or just lose it.

There are books and music that enrich my life.

I live in a country that may sometimes disappoint me, but is where I need and want to be.

It’s Thanksgiving season.

We’re about to celebrate the quintessential American holiday in the only way we know—as a flawed, noisy but loving family.

How marvelous is that!


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