As it does every year, Thanksgiving is coming, but it’s so very different this year.
Normally, I know from reading, many families have to gird themselves for the inevitable battles that happen every Thanksgiving. All the tensions and hard feelings and misunderstanding stored since last year ooze out, as if pushed to the surface by too much turkey and stuffing and sweet potatoes and delicious flowing red wine.
I don’t have that. I don’t know it from experience. I am incredibly lucky; I’ve been having Thanksgiving with the same people for my entire life; I’ve moved up the ladder of the generations as the rungs below me fill with younger and younger people and the elders I love vanish off the top. It’s a complicated thing to watch. Thanksgiving is complicated. Early American history is far more complicated than we realized when we were kids — all history is — and the stately gavotte of the generations has equal mixtures of melancholy and joy.
But for my family, most of the time Thanksgiving is overwhelmingly joyous. Last year, more than 40 of us — mostly family, but increasingly extended family, as well as some friends — stuffed into my daughter’s house. It was loud, thoughtful, interesting, funny, overwhelmingly scrumptious — and nothing at all like this year.
Thanksgiving is a time of, well, giving thanks (you’re welcome!); this year that, too, will be complicated. First, those of us who have enough food should be aware of how lucky we are. Many people do not have any food; others don’t have enough. Some people have been struggling with poverty and food insecurity for a long time; others have faced it for the first time this year, as the mishandled pandemic has allowed the virus to rage and range, and businesses, without much hope of any more federal aid coming any time soon, are shutting down.
Those of us with enough to eat have to confront the isolation of being entirely alone, or the loneliness of having the company of a few other people but not the larger circle that nurtures us in sane times, are relatively extraordinarily lucky — but few of us are able to take real joy in relative luck.
And of course many of us have had to confront the lonely death and arid funeral of someone we loved. There is no comfort, no hope, no on-the-other-hand there.
But there is hope. There is science. There is progress. There might be light, glistening at the end of a needle.
How amazing is it that there are now three vaccines that seem to be safe and effective, created through the application of data and skill and attention and creativity, that will end this fairly soon! This is not the speed at which science generally works, but those are the elements it needs.
With luck — and with professionalism and care — we will all be able to get vaccinated, the magic RNA will do its extraordinary tricks, and by next year we’ll all be able to get together again, eat too much, talk a lot, laugh unendingly, and look back at this odd unwelcome pandemic year as it recedes into memory and then into myth.