It is the day before Thanksgiving, 2012. I am at a Subway. For my urban friends, I do not mean the mode of transportation. I mean the sandwich shop. Actually, I am so suburban that to me, the word subway actually connotes sandwiches, so that when my co-worker told me that Hurricane Sandy caused the subways to flood, I had terrible images of floating foot-longs and bottles of mayonnaise.
Right next door is a Starbucks. I was there before I came here, savoring an Earl Grey tea latte and using their free wi-fi by the window. I am restaurant-hopping because I am waiting for my little sister. She is in a car full of girls coming down from Seattle, currently crawling through holiday traffic. I can track her using an app on my phone—something definitely creepy but also incredibly necessary for an obsessive control freak like myself. I refresh the page every few minutes, watching her purple dot inch down the freeway. I also keep up a running commentary reporting her current surroundings over text, informing her that a golf course will be on her right in a few moments, and she’s now passing a lake.
She’s my only family in the area, since our extended family is in the Midwest with one small colony in Florida. My immediate family celebrates Thanksgiving in October along with the rest of their strange land. I’m not really clear on why Canada has Thanksgiving in the first place, since I assume they didn’t have the Mayflower and buckle-hats and maize. But when I question their adoption of the holiday, people look at me judgmentally and say, “Isn’t it good to have a holiday to give thanks?”
Well, duh. What am I going to say, no? That’s not the point I’m trying to make, though it goes to show why I feel like Thanksgiving is the most pretentious of holidays. It’s an American holiday (only Canada has copied us, I think), there’s no religious affiliation, and somehow the combination of these things make people feel the most self-important. On Thanksgiving, people serve at soup kitchens to make themselves “thankful” for what they have. Or they write self-serving blogs posts about how grateful they are for internet and canned food. Thanksgiving is about family, and togetherness, and the lack of gifts, and kitchen skills.
Kinda. It’s mostly about eating too much and then circling ads for what you’re going to shove someone out of the way for at Target the next morning.
Maybe this cynicism is a by-product of my week. It’s been long, one of those where I can’t remember why I like my job or how to effectively and lovingly deal with the people around me. Instead of the joy and thanksgiving this week is supposed to bring—apparently, though I’ve seen little evidence of anyone feeling this way—I’ve been tested at every turn: a snide comment directed at me here, a misunderstanding there, a stressed email full of misguided rage at circumstances beyond my control way over there. And because this work week was short, so was my patience, and because my timeframe was rigid, so were my responses.
But leaving my week behind, which I’m so ready to do, I just don’t really like Thanksgiving that much. As a child, we lived far away from grandparents, so it wasn’t a tradition to spend the day with extended family. Then when my immediate family moved away, the traditions grew even fewer. I spent the day with other people’s grandparents eating other people’s grandparents’ pie. And I don’t even like pie that much! Truth be told, most of Thanksgiving food is rubbish.
Add to the experience the required viewing of football, the uncomfortable after-dinner belly aches and uncomfortable after-dinner female small talk, and the fact that the entire historical celebration on which this holiday is based—pilgrims and natives together, hooray—was followed up with the slaughter and subjugation of an entire race. I’m ready to write Thanksgiving off for good and head straight into Christmas. Forget this.
Hours later, I’m sitting on my couch, my sweet sister sitting next to me as we try to figure out what time the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade starts in the morning. She met me at the movie theatre where I spent the time between Subway and her arrival feeling tense due to Ben Affleck and the hostages in 1980s Iran. On our way home, she and I had a spirited discussion about the different theories of acting and what method acting really entails. Now we sit in sweet silence, both wearing pajama pants and our hair up out of our faces: the universal female signs of “comfort.”
And I realize this is Thanksgiving. This is thankfulness. I feel it rise around me, like sinking into a warm bath, the water level warming my cool and aching body. The thankfulness warmed my aching heart, so bruised after life poking the same tender areas over and over again. I settle into gratefulness, letting it become the only thing I feel.
I think about all of the announcements on Facebook recently, all of the babies to be born and the ones who were just. I think about the weddings being planned and the jobs being gotten. I think about the elections won and the books published and the albums released. Those are things to be thankful for.
But I don’t have any of those things. No boyfriends, babies, or big changes.
Still, this feeling of thanks. For the little things, the little comforts of my daily life that I have begun to feel are my right instead of my privilege. A Starbucks, Subway, and cinema within blocks of my work. A car that shelters me from the rain and gets me there. The ability to see and participate in stories in a darkened room with strangers.
And more: For a nightly mug of tea, slightly sweetened, sometimes with a biscuit that reminds me of a time when I was brave.
For a job that allows me to try new things, use my talents and gifts to benefit others and myself.
For a family that is far and friends who are near, and both who challenge me with loving shoves and open arms.
For a church that makes me feel like Christ is real and present, revealing himself now regardless of age or gender.
For stories that enrich my life, my mind, and my faith, teaching me about what this world means and what it is trying to do.
For this past year: safety in my first major car accident, bravery in my first conference presentation, beauty in watching lightening strike the ocean, wisdom in teaching my first class.
Life is about the big things, yes, but it is easy to be thankful for them: for new babies, new last names, new titles and business cards. What we so often overlook are the little things that make our lives have dimension and depth: the stories we listen to and tell, the desserts we make from scratch, and the rare sunny days that we choose not to take for granted. And of course, the internet and canned foods.
Many other things for which to be thankful, many other days to be thankful. And I will be thankful that we have this day to be thankful, this day that reminds us turkeys take longer to defrost than you expect and that we are lucky to be here with both feet on the ground and our minds in another world.
I am thankful, yes indeed very thankful.
And the clock turns midnight. Happy Thanksgiving.