Thanksgiving was altered this year, of course. For over 25 years, we have hosted Julie’s family, who arrived from 4 states. Bedlam would rule from Wednesday through Saturday with every bed, couch, and floor occupied. It was the right kind of bedlam.
Being a physician, I have been able to keep up with COVID research, and months ago, I knew that the holidays would be a difficult time. I concluded that we could not responsibly host Thanksgiving this year. In October, I sent out a family-wide email to announce that fact. This action was sad for me and hard for Julie.
During the pandemic, I have lived a sheltered life. Not an isolated experience, but a sheltered one. I interact with Julie and my at-home daughter Kathryn, I see my friend Tom, plus a few other friends, and I phone and email a couple others. I don’t feel lonely. I have adjusted to my new life, and I accept it.
Three of my children have resided outside our home during recent months. Two were away at college, and my oldest daughter lives with her family in central Illinois. My own children became my stress. They would be spending the holiday with us, each of them a potential virus vector. I was worried about my health. I had a genuine fear that they could bring a coronavirus interloper back to Naperville. The thought that I was afraid of my own children gave me a sense of shame. I can’t ignore reality. It was what it was.
My kids have all been responsible. Both of my college kids have carefully adhered to their school’s COVID guidelines. My oldest daughter and her family have also been compliant. All of their actions have been consistent with safety. Intellectually, this was comforting, but thinking and feeling are sometimes unrelated in my brain. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, a day dedicated to giving thanks. I am most thankful for those who I love. How sad that COVID could turn them into objects of fear.
Last Saturday, I picked up my daughter from her university, an 11-hour round trip. Thankfully, the normalcy of seeing her calmed some of my fears. By the time we returned home, my son had arrived from his school; his presence also quieted me. My oldest daughter Anne came on Thanksgiving day. She made a point to tell me that she had just tested her family as a precaution for her trip.
My friend Tom is making his family’s Thanksgiving turkey, but his mother-in-law won’t be attending. My sister, Nancy didn’t host her usual dinner, but her daughter Shari dropped off complete meals for her and my brother-in-law, Mike. My sister Carol also stayed home alone, but several of her kids brought dinner and treats to her. The virus may have halted get-togethers, but it can’t stop love.
Each of my kids has their favorite Thanksgiving dish, so I couldn’t simplify our meal. However, one thing did change this Thanksgiving, my children. They have always been helpful kids, but this year they became helpful adults. Dinner prep became a family affair. Kathryn made the Jello “salad” and the mashed potatoes. Grace baked and helped with various tasks. William made the green bean casserole and the corn casserole. My wife, Julie, made the sweet potatoes, and I took care of the turkey, stuffing, and gravy.
By the time I heard my oldest daughter’s car pull up, I was genuinely excited to see her and her family. They seemed equally happy to be spending the day with us.
Thanksgiving was filled with laughter, conversation, and too much food. After we cleaned up the dinner dishes, we went on a walk. The weather was clear, and the temperature was crisp. I marveled at some of our neighbor’s Christmas decorations but didn’t feel the least guilty of my more simplistic plans.
Anne and her family left for home. The rest of us settled into another Thanksgiving tradition, the viewing of Jean Shepard’s “A Christmas Story.” I have seen this movie so many times that I can recite the actor’s lines with authority.
In many ways, Thanksgiving was business as usual. In many other ways, it was completely different. That is what this virus does; it modifies normal.
A month from now, it will be Christmas. Another family holiday altered by the coronavirus. This year our cousin celebration is canceled. Also, my nephew, Tommy, won’t host his Christmas Eve party.
We always travel to Julie’s family in Minnesota during Christmas week. However, the Minnesota Christmas party will likely be shelved. COVID cases will certainly increase between Thanksgiving and Christmas, making such a get-together foolhardy.
The year 2020 will be as notable as the year 1918. In many ways, we have advanced in 100 years. But in many more ways, we have not. Just like then, politics overruled logic. Just like then, we had to fear those who we most love. Just like then, our lives were placed on hold. However, just like then, we will eventually move forward. Life will go on, Thanksgiving dinners will be held, Christmases will be celebrated. Yet, I believe that parts of our lives will be permanently altered. Not all of those changes will be negative.
Many have rediscovered the simple pleasures of reading a book, playing a board game, and conversing. Personally, I have gotten into the rhythm of cooking dinner with my kids regularly. I am comfortable being with myself. I am grateful for routine pleasures.
I am focused on simplicity rather than excess. I relish a sudsy hot shower, a walk with my kids, a Netflix movie with Julie, a cup of coffee with my friend, Tom.
At the same time, I am saddened that Violet, the campervan, has been more idle this year, and my personal goal to photograph rural towns has been placed on hold. I accept these losses, but I do so with grudging awareness that my adventure years have a finite expiration date.
Life is what you make it. I refuse to put my life on hold, waiting for things to return to normal. Today I choose to make the most of what I have, and I will focus on that fact rather than on my losses. I accept myself, flaws, and all. As I love those around me, I will also love myself. I choose to be thankful.
Happy Thanksgiving, dear reader.