Thanksgiving 2021

NOTE: I typed the first draft of this post on my phone while lying in bed around 9:30 this morning. I apologize it has taken me over 13 hours to get around to editing it and posting.

The Myth

Like virtually all Americans of privilege my age, I grew up having been taught only a gauzy, feel-good myth about “The First Thanksgiving.”

In early adulthood (as I did with so much of the cultural container that came as standard for kids growing up white and male in the US in the 1950s and 60s) I moved away from the Norman Rockwell standard portrait of the holiday.

Instead, I came to redefine the day as an occasion to pause, reflect on my gratitude for the love and connections in my life, and celebrate these things with members of my family of choice and others dear to me.

That self-defined tradition was well established before I became fully aware (many years into my continuing education about the true backstory of my “heritage” in this “exceptional” country) of what a painful anniversary is observed on this day by many of my indigenous sisters and brothers.

By the time I began to realize that certain folks I considered close friends, who I loved and admired greatly, always politely but firmly declined invitations to our feasting, explaining they had another personal engagement that day, I was already well into the process of building my own self-defined customs, and was probably a little too self-centered to truly stop and ask for help in understanding what I didn’t know. [This story arc, I am sorry to say, describes so much of the privilege I’ve enjoyed all my life. But that’s a discussion for another day.]

To those reading this who count the fourth Thursday of November a National Day of Mourning I can only say: I see you. I respect you. I feel a tiny hint of the grief and sadness you must carry, and I have great shame and regret that my privilege rests on such a dark and evil history.

Painting by Karen Rinaldo, 1995

For me though, the tradition of gratitude must remain. Not for my material privilege, great though it is. But again, for the love and connections in my life.

Yoshimi and I have spent the better part of four decades now making a life together. And for most of that time, Thanksgiving Day represented a time to gather together the members of our Family of Choice, and others with whom we shared bonds of connection and affection around the biggest table we could find to spend an afternoon and early evening sharing company, love, and gratitude; for each other and for all the gifts, great and small, our lives bring us virtually every day.

There was a time, some years back now, when we were committed to opening our home and playing hosts to all manner of events and celebrations, be they Independence Day barbeques, New Years Eve and Superbowl parties,  or gathering a dozen or so of us in the old Hugus Court media room for a communal viewing on the (then huge) 36″ TV and large speaker hi fi system of all 14 hours of the Transatlantic ‘Live Aid’ concerts (a very fond memory for me personally).

We always felt it was part of our compact with the universe to share our ‘blessings’ with an open hand.

And it truly was our experience that in the giving, we received far more, filling our hearts.

But over the years, we have let the events go, one by one, as the doing grew more difficult, for multiple reasons.

The Feast of Thanksgiving was the last. Not quite as long a guest list in recent years as it had been at one time (I think our “record” head count one year was somewhere north of two dozen), but there was always room at the table for that last minute stray or two we might discover had nowhere else to be.

We have held on to this tradition as the others organically fell away.

And it seems right to me that would be the case since this tradition in our house and hearts was expressly about celebrating the gifts of our love and connections.

However, I am sad to say that the days of great feasting are behind us now.

Our last Thanksgiving gathering was two years ago (and one beloved who was at our table then departed from us in 2020—Pam, your memory is cherished, and you are deeply missed).

Last year, of course, the whole world was in lockdown. The vaccine was still months away.

And as the time came ’round this year to begin making plans, Yoshimi and I both realized that we have aged out of the ability to handle the physical demands hosting a feast entails, even  if, as we always have, we declare “potluck” and ask all who can to contribute something to the table.

We mutually agreed it is time for us to let this go. It’s just beyond our reach now.

If we, either of us, were a part of one of those large, blood related Families of Origin this would be the point at which the younger generation steps up to take on the mantle. “Starting this year, we’ll be having Thanksgiving at Mary and Bob’s house. It’s a reasonable drive for everyone, and they’ve got plenty of room there to host the whole gang.”

We would naturally slide into the role of elders, expected to show up and hang out in the living room keeping grandkids amused until time to eat.

But that’s not who we are. It’s always been Family of Choice, though that has from time to time included members of our Families of Origin.

At any rate, we find ourselves planning a little dinner for two here at home, and a sit down later to watch the first part of Peter Jackson’s Beatles project.

We’ve been invited to drop in at a beloved neighbor’s, which I expect we’ll do at some point for a few minutes.

All in all, a quiet, very different sort of Thanksgiving Day for us. A softer, more contemplative sort of holiday.

Of course, I mourn the loss of the gatherings which have been a central part of my annual calendar for most of my adult life.

And I must confess to a bit of resentment at the fact circumstances have deprived us of a final “sweet farewell” to the tradition.

“Not with a bang but a whimper,” as the poet said.

>>Aside: We did enjoy a mini-event of sorts this past weekend. Over the past year or so, four of us who initially connected on the Zoom machine for reasons too complicated and not relevant enough to spend time on here have been having “virtual coffee” together every Saturday morning.

This past Saturday my three coffee buddies, two of whom I’d never met in three dimensions, gathered themselves together from disparate locations around Northern and Central California and presented themselves here at the Red House for lunch in the warm November sun on our back patio. Nobody called it a “Thanksgiving gathering,” but it was, in microcosm, exactly that spirit of fellowship and love that has held the day at our annual Thursday feasts for so many years. And although we’ve hosted a couple small dinners for one or two local friends, it was the first time I’ve enjoyed this sort of physical proximity here at home with people I love since the Before Times.

So thank you my Rock Dropping compadres for bringing the party to us!<<

It’s a bit melancholy, I must admit, finding myself in what a friend of a friend has called ‘the short seasons of life.’

These days I seem to be living in an endless river of losses and departures as deaths, changes of circumstance, and evolutions of people, places, and things proceed apace.

It remains my job apparently to continue to find the beauty, the joy, the love, that moment that is embedded somewhere in each day I’m granted the opportunity to participate in.

And that’s not a bad job at all when you think about it.

So, for those who mourn today, my heart is with you. For those who celebrate, I join you in gratitude and express my profound thanks for each of you these words reach, and the part you play, have played, or will play in the arc of my life.

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