This is a tough year to live alone and to be honest, the loneliest Thanksgiving in my memory. When the CDC recommended against the mixing of households on Thanksgiving, it meant being alone on the holiday for people like me who are single. In past years, wherever I found myself in the world, I somehow managed to travel to be with my family on Thanksgiving. Being alone on this day represented a sad Hallmark movie about someone who was in such bad straits that they had nowhere to go on a holiday that embodies family togetherness, warmth and an overflowing feast.
This year, I am the star of my own Hallmark movie. My family is scattered in different cities and countries and none of us are traveling. We are the type of family, with scientists among us, that follow CDC guidelines. A friend asked me a few weeks ago if I wanted to spend the evening of Thanksgiving with her and a few others. She called us the “strays that were left behind in the city” and we planned to come together over a roasted duck and pumpkin pie. I reserved a pie from Breads Bakery in New York for the occasion. But we decided at the last minute to cancel the gathering and follow CDC guidelines. So, us single strays will be dining alone.
My family knows that for me, Thanksgiving is all about pumpkin pie. One year when my Mother was still hosting Thanksgiving, she met me on the morning of the holiday in the doorway of her apartment in Philadelphia and announced that she had substituted the traditional pie with a pineapple cake (on Thanksgiving!) because no one really likes pumpkin pie anyway. I was so upset that my very patient father put on his coat and said come, we will find a pie. We walked the streets of Philadelphia together and found a pie at a gourmet food shop that was open on Thanksgiving on South Street. It was a pumpkin mousse pie that became a staple at our family Thanksgiving celebrations for years.
The pie that was ordered for the now-canceled gathering with friends is sitting on my kitchen counter, with no one to share it with. It has a golden smooth top and a lightly browned crust that curves over the side of its pan. I will have a slice as I sit on zoom with my family who will dial in from their respective computers. I need to keep reminding myself that there is no room for self-pity because I have a family that will be sharing a virtual dinner with me. And I will meet my friends later in the week for outdoor dining at a sushi restaurant.
It has become a knee-jerk reaction for people to say that we need to be thankful for what we have. And of course, that is true. If we are alive and well at this very moment during the worst public crisis our generation has experienced, we should be grateful. But I am also giving myself permission to wallow a bit in self-pity and sadness, because this is a year unlike any other, and we have all been through a near-death experience. We either know someone who died or was terribly sick from the coronavirus, or we imagined what it would be like to get sick ourselves. I have lived in fear that I would get sick and end up on a ventilator in New York’s Central Park.
There is light at the end of the tunnel with the promise of fast vaccines coming on the market, but there is also the prospect of surviving a long, dark winter before the specter of death and illness is lifted from everyday existence. I am giving myself and anyone else who requires it permission to not be entirely grateful this Thanksgiving and to take a moment to wallow in the sadness of where we find ourselves.