To begin with, Thanksgiving means something different to everyone. Some people hate the holiday and don’t celebrate it. Some people, for completely sound reasons, find it offensive. Some people are used to observing it alone, or with one or two other people. Some people come from other traditions, and just don’t get the point.
For all the years of this blog, Laurie and I have done a gratitude post for Thanksgiving: good things that have happened during the year. We have tried to make sure that our list is international and multi-subject (science, art, sport, health, politics). We decided not to do that this year. While there are things worth appreciating, this country is just in too much of a shambles, and our government caused so much pain, suffering, mental health challenges, disability, and death to so many, that general gratitude seems … hypocritical. Laurie and I both know we’ve been very lucky so far in this pandemic. We may both have things to be grateful for–but we all have so much to lament. Frankly, we all also have a great deal to resent, and people to blame.
Since I’m feeling the lack of having (some of) my closest people with me this year, Laurie and I also decided that I should write something about 2020 Thanksgiving.I understand why the holiday is offensive, and in some ways the poster child for white supremacy celebrations. I also understand that it can easily become a paean to gluttony–the groaning board table, the expectation that we will eat too much, the inevitable waste. Nonetheless, I love the holiday. I love the food and the abundance (and I try to minimize the waste). I love the gathering with friends and family, the sense of togetherness and connection, sometimes the conscious attention to gratitude.
For many years, I have wished I had a fixed Thanksgiving plan, with mostly the same people every year, in mostly the same place. That just hasn’t worked out. For some years, my partner and I ate with friends who have small children. One year, we had a big meal in our house, which isn’t especially well designed for it, but we had a great time. Last year, he and I brought a small Thanksgiving to a friend recovering from surgery, and invited a few other friends. None of them have been my perfect Thanksgiving, but they have mostly had something of the flavor I care about.
And so will this Thursday. We’ll eat with our downstairs neighbors, who have been a pod with us since March. The food will be excellent and yes, the table will be abundant. The conversation will be pleasant, if somewhat predictable. The 8-year-old who lives downstairs will fidget until he’s allowed to play with his electronics.
But it will all happen in a context of rising cases, full ICUs (not where we are yet), the people Nikole Hannah-Jones accurately calls sacrificial workers taking chances for the rest of us. You and I, reading and writing this, may not know anyone whose loved one is dying of COVID in a hospital where no one can visit them, but we know they are there. We may not know anyone who is still unable to walk across a room four months after “recovering” from the virus, but we know they are there. We may not know anyone who has completely lost the business they gave their lives to, or the job they fed their families with, but we know they are there. In the hundreds of thousands, in the millions. We may not know anyone who refuses to wear a mask, or demonstrates for the right to large public gatherings, but we know they are there too. We also know how many people, who may be otherwise protected and fortunate, are eating alone tomorrow. Nonetheless, humans tend to cling to some kind of hope in hard times.
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are a ray of hope, but it is hard to be grateful for their election when we worked to hard to get them where they are, and we know how much opposition they face, and how many ways they will fall short of our hopes — even while they turn the country’s response to the coronavirus around. Electing Biden and Harris will be the end of the Trump catastrophe, but it won’t solve any of America’s pre-existing, now exacerbated, problems. It only gives us a springboard from which to keep pushing for what we believe in.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines aren’t just rays of hope, they are beams of expectation–and they will be slowed down at least some by distribution inequities, technical issues, supply-chain failures, and people who are committed to the belief that all vaccines are conspiratorial devices. The experts are hoping that these vaccines, and the ones behind them in the pipeline, will free us up by next late summer or fall, with far too many deaths, disabilities, failed businesses, lost jobs, and drug overdoses between here and there.
It does seem worth mentioning the landmark news out of Scotland: free menstrual hygiene products for everyone! Laurie had been following the campaign, but it came as a complete surprise to me, and another bright ray of hope on the horizon. It’s just the kind of thing we would showcase in a happier post.
I’ll be trying to enjoy what I have, keep thinking about my own efforts to heal the world, writing postcards to Georgia voters, helping amuse the 8-year-old, and not eating too much. I hope you will be doing your version of the same.
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