Thanksgiving This Year (and others) Won’t Be a Hallmark Card…and That’s OK…..
At some unspoken level, we all seem to want a Hallmark Thanksgiving — the perfect get together with the perfectly set table with the perfect family (nuclear and extended). We want tranquility and peace. We want everyone to get along. We want there to be no tension and no fights (political or otherwise). We want grudges to be forgotten or forgiven. We want good humor and good music. We want there to be warmth, even if it does not emanate from an actual Hallmark like fireplace. We want the turkey to be just right, not too tough and not a carving nightmare. We want the football teams in our pool to win. We want our favorite teams to win. We want to connect and be connected.
But…..this Thanksgiving will not be perfect (and few likely have been, were our memories honest). Over the past 18 months with the Pandemic and death and illness and long haul Covid cases, not everyone is present and/or well. And, there have been other deaths from non-Covid related causes that will leave seats at the proverbial table empty — and some tables will be empty because of food scarcity.
And for some, this is the first Thanksgiving together in a while …. making it clear sadly who is there and who is missing.
We remember Thanksgivings past — the ones where everyone was there and feeling well. We remember the football games in the yard (when our now grown children were young) and the inter-generational conversations, recognizing that some of those generations have passed on. We remember an easier time perhaps, a time when travel did not involve risks and masks and extensive lines and traffic galore and extremely high gas prices. And even if some of those memories have mellowed over time like a yellowing photograph, we still quest for their return.
We imagine Hallmark, even if it did not really exist. And I know lots about that since Hallmark Thanksgivings were never a part of my childhood or adulthood and memories of awful things said keep flooding out as I write this, as if I were creating a tuning fork orchestra just for my own listening.
And now? What is Thanksgiving now? For what are we seeking thanks? And, who will be at and missing from our respective tables?
I have a thought. I think we make matters worse for ourselves by remembering as if immutable all of our Thanksgivings past (both those that were wonderful or not so wonderful in our mind’s eye). Might we want to focus on new traditions and new ways of commemorating those no longer with us? Might we have different toasts and different games and different conversations? Might we try new ways of connecting and sharing, whether food is abundant or scarce? Might we want to tone down that tuning fork orchestra music?
We can repeat old recipes that were favorites. We can have baking contests as to determine which family member makes the best pecan or apple pie. I am not suggesting we forget the past — and even if we tried, we couldn’t.
That said, being stuck in the past doesn’t move us forward. It is a door closer. not a door opener. We can remember (the good and the bad) but let’s open a door or a window to new people and new ways of doing things. Regret and melancholy and nostalgia won’t disappear but we can’t move time back. We can’t get time to reverse. We can’t get people back. We can’t ask those who offended us to apologize; they may not be here now or are cognitively impaired with the passage of time or so old that it wouldn’t matter anyhow. And, apologies — though nice in many ways — can’t enable us to re-do Thanksgivings past.
We can’t get the same sentiment we had decades ago, in part too because we have aged. And surely we can’t reverse the time clock to Thanksgivings when we were young parents or healthier athletes or star performers.
Here’s my advice (which I would be wise to take to heart myself): literally open the door. Invite in a new neighbor. Drop off cookies to a friend in need. Welcome now adult children with respect for their privacy and their entry into adulthood. Remember those gone but find ways to welcome those new people in one’s life — — new grandchildren, new partners of our children and their friends. And. for those who are widowed or divorced, remember the better times but open the door to the new relationships with friends or lovers or partners (or some of those could be combined within a single person).
Try this too: cook something new. A new recipe. Something that has not been tried before. And if it turns out to be delicious, make it a part of a new Thanksgiving tradition. And, perhaps that new invited person will be invited to return next year too, to become a part of a new tradition. We have biological families but we can create what someone I know calls “logical” families, families to whom we are not connected by blood but by compatibility and caring and warmth and concern and simpatico.
Learning to respect and deal with and process the past yet live in the present and plan for the future are tough lessons to learn and employ. The solutions aren’t written anywhere. It all resides in our head space. With the Pandemic and the omnipresence of death and illness and change and uncertainty, it is hard to ease up on the past and move into an uncertain present and plan for a wonderful future. But, trying this is a vastly better choice than choosing to relive a past that can never return.
Consider this mantra: Honor and process the past, live with intention in the present and plan joyfully for the future. That is my holiday recipe (in addition to a real food recipe that uses new spices and flavors) and it messages a pathway forward. At the end of the day, forward is where we are going — whether we go there with grace or not. Better to go there with grace and intention and a touch of wisdom too. We can play better music even if Hallmark isn’t present (and never actually was).
And to all: