I spent Thanksgiving of 1992 in a sports bar, in an unfamiliar city far from home.
My baby lay in cardiac ICU recovering from open heart surgery. The only restaurant open that day was a sports bar next to a girlie club, so there my husband and I perched on stools, eating burgers and nursing our exhaustion before returning to the room where Ben lay entangled in tubes and wires attached to beeping machines.
I thought about where we should have been that day, of the platters of turkey, the women fussing in the kitchen over the gravy and mashed potatoes, the men gathered around the tv, arguing over the football game. Of our walks through the neighborhood in the twilight, hoping to make room for a slice of pie afterward. Of the warmth of this loud, affectionate group of distant relatives combining the traditional dishes of our Danish heritage with the more familiar American standbys.
I also thought of the friends who had made room in their lives and at their tables for our two little girls while we were away from them, wrapping them in their comfort and assurance that Mama and Boppy and baby brother would be home soon.
Many years have come and gone since that lonely Thanksgiving day, but circumstances this year have reminded me. This Thanksgiving will be similarly lonely for many of us. Covid has stolen the life-giving grace of being with the ones we love. It has also given us the gift of appreciating those same people, as well as many others who escaped our notice before.
2020 has shown us how much we need each other. So many relationships that we took for granted have now become priceless. Hugs have changed from a casual greeting to a precious gift. Instead of a loose embrace and a quick pat, we cling.
This year we’ve seen medical personnel, teachers and even janitors in a new light. Our eyes and hearts have been opened to our interdependence in ways that only times like these can reveal.
In my state, Thanksgiving gatherings are banned this year. We may not have enough people around our table to cook a turkey, but there are always enough reasons to stop and give thanks. This year, we should be more grateful than ever before for the people we love.
Sometimes the loss of something precious creates a sweet poignancy that escapes us during ordinary times. That can be a good thing, if we let it.
We can harden our hearts and rail against Covid, or the government, or God. Or we can become aware of the love around us that we took for granted before. And in the awareness, let our gratitude run deep for the privilege of loving and being loved in this frightening and chaotic world.
We are on the cusp of Thanksgiving in America, and this year our hearts aren’t on food or football. Instead, they are on each other.
And that is something to be thankful for indeed.