We see all the pre-holiday hoopla. We read all the cards and catalogs. We see and hear advertisements galore. We know there are sales and we might even buy something for someone (or for ourselves). Everything seems decorated and celebratory ..... plastic and paper turkeys abound. For some, this is the start of preparing for the X-mas holiday too: presents, decorations; wrapping; eggnog. Santas start appearing.
Thanksgiving is a time for family, a time to get together with those about whom you care. It is a time to recall, if possible, how Thanksgiving even arose as a celebrated event. It is a time to eat too much and watch too much football.
For some people that is.
Sadly, many people are struggling with a myriad of issues and while they can give thanks for living on this earth, they are ill or homeless or food deprived. They are abused or experiencing toxic stress. They have been assaulted or shot or maimed. They have been abandoned or incarcerated or detained at a border or two. They are jobless or experiencing under-employment; they are struggling to raise families in neighborhoods where crime is rampant; they are discriminated against because of their color or their religion or their ethnicity or all three combined. They cannot travel home because of costs or fires or floods or feuds. They are serving in the armed services, away from their families and at risk.
I am not trying to play Scrooge and diminish holidays. I am just asking that we be mindful of those for whom holidays are hard. If you've lost a friend or a child or a parent, holidays can be particularly difficult. If you are ill or very very old, you may wonder if this is your last holiday. If you are a child, you may not like what you see happening in your home, particularly some relatives whose behavior is difficult or crosses some invisible but clear line and boundary. If you are deployed, there is sadness on all sides of the war.
I know that when children return to school after the Thanksgiving break and students return to colleges or employees return to work, those first few days back are tough sledding for some. We often ask seemingly innocuous questions: Did you have a good holiday? How was your Thanksgiving meal? Share something wonderful that happened while you were "on vacation."
Some of us answer these questions dishonestly -- to obscure painful experience. Or to feel part of the "celebratory" nature of the questions even if our own celebration was lacking. Or, we answer positively because we cannot face reality or do not want to share our reality with others. Teachers and professors, administrators and employers: be ready. Allow students and workers to ease back into their routine; give them space to breathe and process. Be there for them as a stable, constant supportive presence.
So, to all of you celebrating with family and friends, remember that in addition to giving thanks for one's abundance and freedom and shelter and family ties and profound friendships, there are folks out there who struggle mightily to navigate Thanksgiving. They aren't asking for pity or handouts. They are not snowflakes. It is just that this holiday, perhaps this year only or every year, is hard.
One more thing: people struggling don't all wear signs. They don't always "look" or "act" unhappy. They don't appear to be troubled. But, they could be traumatized or hollowed out on the inside, as the above image portrays. That's worth all of us remembering.
Civility, decency, respect, awareness, kindness: they all have a role at the Thanksgiving table and thereafter. And we can extend those qualities to those with whom we engage -- those whom we know and those whom we encounter casually in lines, in stores, on a bus or train or plane or at a restaurant or corner bodega. We can remember those serving our nation near and far for whom there is no real holiday --- at least not as we picture it.
For those celebrating, have a Happy Thanksgiving. And for those struggling or separated from loved ones for one reason or another, know there are people near and far who care .... for real.