Dear friends, peers, colleagues, family members, and readers everywhere,
I have little left to offer but these words.
Since the election we have only turned more inward and hostile. We are doing more damage to ourselves and our peers than a President Trump could ever do to us. We have forgotten who we are as Americans and, even more importantly, as people. Thanksgiving gives us an opportunity to start our relationships anew. We should take it.
To be sure, despite my efforts, I am still part of the problem. A day after the election, I slammed anvils full of schadenfreude down on the salty toes of leftists in the form of a blog post advising them to get over it. I took some heat for it, but by all accounts, I was holding back. The social and internet lives of many ostensibly functioning human beings have only gotten worse since the election, with more pundits, commentators, and even comedians only now taking notice of what I have been telling you all year since February.
It felt good to be ahead of the curve and I regret none of what I said. But cynicism has its limits, and however constructive my intentions then, I think I failed. More importantly, I think can do better now.
Over the week, in addition to the public denouncements of dissenters in their proximal social midst, I have seen the usual deluge of “how to tolerate your bigoted relatives at Thanksgiving” articles, as though the holiday is now but a mere obligation that tiresome customary politeness demands of the proud individual. I won’t grant them the dignity of a link but these “think”-pieces have included pre-dinner exercises in self-restraint, sample lectures or sermons to let rip on your family, and pretentious pseudo-cathartic monologues revealing the sheer amount of venom that the smiles and hugs at dinner conceal. No doubt too that there are many Trump supporters looking forward to the opportunity to rub the Donald’s victory in the faces of their leftist relatives they see that one time in a year. In anticipation of that, some are even suggesting the avoidance of such family altogether for the holiday. And I have never seen pleas for calm, and attempted assuaging of fear, treated with so much disdain.
Stop. Everyone, please just stop.
No, this isn’t intended to be a lecture of my own to drown them all out. I’m nobody – a small, inconsequential voice amid a sea of shrieking and squawking. And this isn’t written selfishly either; Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday but it doesn’t need saving in my household. I have two parents who voted for Trump and a younger brother who voted for Hillary. All three of them were wrong, but that’s effectively the end of it. And when I get back up to Massachusetts on Tuesday, I’m going to hug them tighter than ever.
For one, the community I grew up in has seen a hauntingly high number of school-related suicides over the past couple years, including three over the past two months alone. And before you jump to identitarian conclusions, these do not have so much to do with the sexuality or any gender fluidity of the deceased children, but the stress and anxiety of having to cope with the Acton Boxborough community’s surmounting pressure to “succeed,” and the self-loathing after effects of the occasional failure. I do not remember my slow years of maturity to be so cumbersome, but clearly I am one of the lucky ones.
Which means that at least nine families in my hometown will be gathering around their dinner tables without one of their children joining them. How are those families’ evenings even supposed to proceed when such a gargantuan piece of their soul has forever departed?
For two, even if such academic and athletic intensity wasn’t an inevitable staple of the climate I grew up in, my family suffered a similar tragedy earlier this year when my beautiful cousin Sonya, aged 23, took her own life. You can bet that she will be on all of our minds as we prepare the food, decorate the table, and reflect on what we’re thankful for.
And this is to say nothing of the blue and gold star families of America.
This is not written just to beseech perspective of the comparative insignificance of your problems. I do not pretend to understand either you or what keeps you up at night. It is written because if passion and thumos overtake your cordiality, you may be about to do something similar to your own family. No, it obviously won’t be quite the same, but it will numb and chill the hearts of those who love you, and you too by extension. Either you won’t show up, or you will but it won’t really be you at that table, just a twisted shell of the wholesome person you are and that your family will only further fail to understand. You may not know it at the time, you may not even regret your alienation of them immediately, but that isolation will poison us all slowly, just as it poisoned those who gave up too early, and left their loved ones horrified at apparent blindness to their agony.
But even if I bore a grudge strong enough to compel my physical or emotional distance, Thanksgiving would still be my favorite holiday, and I would resist my unpleasant instincts because of what the holiday represents. It’s not just the turkey, the stuffing, the gravy, football, or the alcohol. It’s not just the spirited and spoil-laden celebration of a successful year/harvest that it began as. It’s also a day of family, reflection, love, and gratitude to the people and things that all slip by in the day-to-day toil of life. Everyone’s got grievances, some deeper and more irreparable than others, but the day serves as a reminder that for all the differences and unique frustrations that define a family, they are still a family and no one faces life alone. And as such, it’s a real chance to resolve such trespasses and begin again.
It starts with faith.
Not necessarily in god, but in yourself and in your loved ones. Faith that your family members are not the monsters you see them as or that the demagogues have made them out to be. Faith that those who voted for Trump or Hillary were either making the best of a horrendous political situation they found themselves embroiled in, or that they made their noise without ever intending – or being indifferent to – any harm or humiliation done unto you. Faith that they aren’t sitting at the table to start a fight or inflict scars. Faith that the life they lead, the choices they make, and the words they utter do not stem from malice in their hearts towards you, or apathy for your plight or the plight of your peers. Faith that, at the end of the day, they too are people of good faith, and that they have such faith in you.
And it continues with committing to recognizing the things in life that have escaped our notice. It’s been an awful year, but surely at least one person you love is still alive, healthy, and with you. Are you still employed? Did you make any friends or meet someone special? Did someone come through for you at a time most needed? Did you finish or accomplish something important? Did someone you care about survive or continue to fight an illness or condition? Do you know someone active in the military or a veteran who recently came home? Do you like tacos?
There are internet lists for everything and their cat. Use them and make one for what you’re thankful for.
I submit to you that embracing the spirit of Thanksgiving might actually be good for us. I understand the hesitation to do so. It’s a lot of sap for a conscious adult to swallow. Now more than ever it takes effort to slow the chase, to avert your laser eyes from what is urgently in front of you and appreciate the beauty of your surroundings. Now more than ever it takes effort to look past a person’s internet-bully demeanor and see the real human being underneath, struggling in his/her own way to connect with you, and attain peace and understanding on the day of thanks.
Please try anyway.
The older I get, the less time I have to pause. And I sometimes wonder if maybe what those poor deceased kids who now cannot grace their families with the warmth of their presence on Thursday really needed was another day like Thanksgiving. It is forever my favorite holiday because it is universal in the unique, personal meaning and closure all can find through it. Through the challenge of reconciliation, we just might begin to heal.
Now that’s a curve I’d feel great about being ahead of. Happy Thanksgiving!