This Wednesday night, a long-standing and much-loved tradition will mark the beginning of my favorite holiday weekend of the year. “Veggie Thanksgiving” brings together four siblings and their spouses (plus one adorable toddler) from the far reaches of three states, along with their parents, at their family home in a working-class, New England-style village.
A friendsgiving that dates back before such gatherings had a name or a cultural identity, it will see lifelong pals from near and far parking their cars along the curb and braving the crisp evening breeze to make a dash for the door. They’ll walk into warm air and warm hugs from one and all—significant others, kids and holiday spares welcome. Passing the bannister stacked high with coats, they’ll funnel in through the kitchen, dropping off an eclectic collection of mouth-watering vegetarian dishes, from tofurkey to crescent rolls, and potatoes to lo mein picked up from a local Chinese restaurant on the way.
Before the line snakes back around the growing buffet on the kitchen table, every guest will gather in the living room. Relatives and friends far away will Skype in to the host’s computer or FaceTime someone’s phone. It’s an extraordinary and motley group. Professional musicians stand next to professors and teachers of math and physics, a letter carrier and an IT geek. Skin colors and countries of origin shift with time, as beautiful as they are irrelevant.
One by one, around the room, each person will offer a few words of gratitude—their “thankfuls” for the year. Tear-triggering gratefulness for families and health mingle with thanks for the iPhone on which someone has recorded their thoughts, all forms of pie, or the job that paid for a long-awaited trip. Distant faces take part, included in the circle as if they are there in the flesh. A phone will buzz with an absent invitee’s thoughts for public reading. Sometimes, the gratitude is off the cuff. Often, though, it’s the result of thought over the course of days, carefully crafted and read from a slip of paper or a phone.
Although my family’s pre-Thanksgiving travels will keep me away from the festivities again this year, at some time during the evening I will be thinking of my place in that circle of earnest and joyous faces. So today, I wish all of them—and all of you—a very happy Thanksgiving. And because it’s tradition, I share with you my list of thankfuls.
I am thankful for old friends. Life has taken many of us in different directions, into different careers, to different lands and into different mindsets. Some of us speak often and some not at all, but the bonds we have are irreplaceable, and for that, I’m grateful.
I am thankful for new friends. Whether we’ve gotten to know each other better or met for the first time, we’re on the same page in one way or another right now. We may no longer work together, but we find time for each other. We may have widely divergent interests, but we’re cheering for one another’s success. (Yes, my dear Canadian crew, this one is at least in part for you. Despite the fact that you celebrated Thanksgiving on Columbus and/or Indigenous People’s Day.)
I am thankful for health. For the first time in years, most of my family members near and far are in passable to excellent health, including my new baby cousin and my nearly-centenarian grandmother. My parents are well. My friends are, with few exceptions, healthy. And I am relearning how to let my head, heart and body listen to each other.
I am thankful for adventures. Moving to self-employment, starting work toward my MFA, researching and writing a book, interviewing fascinating people—that’s the just the start. Reworking finances, getting fit, connecting with new people, finding ways to serve others—those are in this category, too. And then there is the potential for adventure and wonder; I’m working on that one.
I am thankful for courage. Not mine; I have only a little. Instead, that of Mahvash, Fariba, Afif, Saeid, Behrouz, Vahid, and Jamál, their families, and the many people who speak out on their behalf. Every time I mention their story and see someone’s eyes flare in recognition, it’s like watching a candle wick catch a flame. Every one sheds a little more light on the injustice; each one burns a little more bravely.
I am thankful for simple things. Lest it be thought that I am always contemplating Big Things (though that’s often true), I am grateful for daily joys. Stable wi-fi, smiles from young musicians, cheerful wags and leans from dogs I meet, and that little kid across the street who hollers hello whenever I step outside, then shows me his new tricycle, or ball, or parents, or the grass along the driveway.
And finally, I am thankful for good people. I smile so hard I cry when I hear about people standing up for those who are being mistreated, or helping those in pain, or sharing what they have—however meager—with someone who has even less. I love them for the example they provide and the work they do to make the world a better place. So I’ll close with a song on the subject from one of my favorite (former) bands. Enjoy!