’Tis the gift to be simple. ’Tis the gift to be free
We often think of Thanksgiving in terms of the visuals. A Norman Rockwell kind of festivity with packed tables of loved ones and browned turkeys the size of laundry baskets. Everyone is dressed in their holiday best and the snowy linen is perfectly set with gleaming dishes and enough food for an army.
’Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be
But this year, Thanksgiving is less like those perfect pictures and more a study in the apocryphal stories we tell about the holiday’s early origins or the calming message of the 1848 Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts.”
This isn’t a celebration of abundance and togetherness. It’s gratitude for surviving a year that has been filled with hardship and uncertainty. It’s appreciation for the helping hands that have gotten us through.
And when we find ourselves in the place just right
The coronavirus pandemic has stolen so much in 2020. It has taken nine months and robbed us of 260,000 lives. It has smothered Easter and summer and birthdays. Kids didn’t go to school. Some people didn’t go to work and others worked almost without stopping. Some worked from home and others lost their jobs.
It will be in the valley of love and delight
The pandemic has made small hiccups into big problems and big problems into heartbreaking hurdles. We balance what is necessary for our health with what is necessary for our mental health. We juggle staying safe with staying sane.
Then there are the matters that still demand attention even at a time when the world seems to stop. The phone bill. The car insurance. The rent check.
When true simplicity is gained
Not to mention the one that hits hard on a day when we expect to groan under the weight of plates heavy with mashed potatoes and gravy and stuffing. At no time since the Great Depression have this many Americans dealt with hunger to the degree we see today.
For too many, Thanksgiving dinner is coming from a box that was handed out by a food pantry. For others, it will be smaller — less an abundance than an acknowledgment of the traditions of the day.
To bow and to bend we will not be ashamed
Some of what is missing could be because Grandma’s sweet potatoes aren’t on the table. Maybe she needs to stay distant because she is at risk. Maybe she was one of those lost to a disease that can strike anywhere but is cruelest to seniors.
These are the unkindest cuts of a heartless year. Thanksgiving isn’t just when we satisfy our bellies. It can also be a day that fills the soul. Human beings hunger for a connection with their tribe — be that family or friends. Visiting online nods at that need, but doesn’t relieve it.
To turn, to turn will be our delight
It is hard not to focus on the negative spaces of the holiday. We know who should be sitting in those empty chairs. We can taste the pie that Mom isn’t making. We feel the absence of the hugs — and even the fights with that one relative about politics. We crave that familiarity.
But that is why it is important to force ourselves to look to what we have. We try to protect our health because we have our health. We keep our distance from those we love because we love them. We give thanks for the gifts that have brought us this far: commitment, perseverance, creativity and strength.
Because the idea of Thanksgiving isn’t the losses the pilgrims suffered. It is the way they survived, with help from others, not just to survive but to celebrate. We can do the same.