Giving thanks, 2018 edition

Janice Chan

“I was surprised that there’s a holiday that everyone celebrates.” — Mayada Anjari, a Syrian refugee preparing her first Thanksgiving meal this year

Having grown up in America, I never thought about how truly special Thanksgiving is as a holiday. It’s a time of coming together — not only with the families we’re born into and with the families we create of our own choosing, but also as a nation.

Yes, there are other countries and cultures with shared holidays, but right now I’m talking about this one. And yes, there are also a host of issues with the narrative most of us were taught in elementary school about pilgrims and indigenous peoples — there are others who have already written about this aspect or addressed that better than I can.

Right now, I’m interested in the opportunity of Thanksgiving to connect through a shared experience. To argue over the proper stuffing and recognize that it’s okay to have more than one version at the table — that it doesn’t take away from the gathering. To gather with people who might usually be outside of our bubbles. To reflect on what we have and the people we get to share it with. To recognize a tradition that even newcomers can participate in simply by participating as something special indeed. To have and to hold that space.

Yes, there will be people missing from many tables this year. There will be dinners at folding tables and not in one’s own kitchen on the plates used for generations. Or perhaps there will not be a dinner at all.

And yet here we are, many of us. Getting ready to gather for a holiday that has space for all of us. For the juxtaposition of families made and chosen. For all manner of potatoes.

Isn’t it beautiful?

Watching the news can feel like opening your ribcage to a firehose of people taking your worst expectations down to unfathomable sub-basement levels. And it’s not that those stories aren’t true or that terrible, awful things aren’t happening. But in my personal experience, more often than not, people have risen above.

This has been a year of many changes personally and professionally. Of leaps taken — with one that did not go as I’d hoped and a couple that, well, I’ll let you know how they turn out when I get there. But so many people have cheered me on and picked me up along the way — not the least of whom is my amazingly supportive partner. But also people who barely knew me. These weren’t changes that are big in the grand scheme of the world and life changes, but they felt big to me even if sometimes they didn’t feel big enough. When I didn’t feel big enough.

Hand (left) holding a pair of glasses out as if in front of the holder and just pulled off their face. The lenses have raindrops on them and the view through and beyond them is blurry. | Photo by Hermes Rivera (Unsplash)

This reflection has been getting away from me.

I guess what I’m trying is that, as Daniel Kahneman has said, WYSIATI. (No, I did not mistype WYSIWYG.) WYSIATI stands for “what you see is all there is,” which is Kahneman’s phrase for how our minds often believe that the information we have is all the information there is.

Thanksgiving is the perfect holiday to look around and see that there is so much more. In our lives. In varieties of delicious turkey preparation (or entrée choice). In the people around us. And that there is space.

There is space. What we see is not all there is.

Janice Chan

Written by

Writer, problem solver, project manager, nonprofit information pro. Always asking how we can do this better. Twitter: @curiositybone |

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