The clock just struck midnight, which means that it's Thanksgiving, officially. My sisters and I have been feeling anxious about this day because it's our first Thanksgiving holiday since our father died. Like most families, we have happy memories of being together on this holiday, eating lots and lots of food, watching the Macy's parade on TV, and feeling, in general, and if only for that day, the contentment that only a loving family can bring you. Self-satisfaction, maybe even so much so that it's a little boring. A non-event that, even on such a day when you're supposed to give thanks, you forget to really commemorate it, forget to tell everyone close to you that you would be lost without them, that you are, actually and truly thankful, because you forget that there might be a time when you won't be able to. That time and place will all diverge in such a way to prevent you from having these inconsequential days that seem so obvious, it's more about the food and the ritual than it is about the sentiment. But time and place have put me on this plane of existence, floating in a world where my family is not, and now I'm standing at a sort of precipice, staring down at all the 36 Thanksgivings that came before this one and wondering how I will manage my 37th when so much has changed.
I've been thinking lately about a Thanksgiving I spent with my father at my apartment in Boston. We didn't have turkey; we had a meat fondue. We did not have pumpkin pie; we ate coconut macaroons. The wonderful thing about my father was that he was never afraid to do things differently. He hated the way old people tend to get caught in ritual, and was always up for an adventure, be it culinary or otherwise. He hated, most of all, to feel old, which was good, because we loved having an adventurous father willing to try new things, and who was not afraid to let go of old traditions in lieu of something unexpected.
This week, I went to the funeral of a friend's mother. The ceremony was a loving tribute, delivered by the most sincere and affable priests I think I've ever witnessed (and I've seen my share of priests). Personally, I am atheist, but as a formerly devout Catholic, mass soothes me in a certain kind of way, another cue to memories of family and comfort. When the priest recited the first sentence of Confiteor – “I confess to Almighty God, and you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and what I have failed to do” – I suddenly thought back to the hundreds of times I have said that prayer and it never produced any kind of feeling in me. But today, on Thanksgiving, I think about “what I have done, and what I have failed to do” and this nagging worry eats at me. Did my father know how thankful we all were? Did he know, I mean really know, how endlessly he was loved? At the time, our comfortable complacency seemed like the best thing in the entire world. Maybe it's possible that he enjoyed the quiet happiness we experienced; he didn't need big expressions of grand emotions. Maybe it's possible that he did know. That possibility keeps me going, because I honestly don't know if I could live if I thought otherwise.
So, following in my father's footsteps, I will not be frightened of setting a new tradition, of celebrating in a different way than ever before. I will cook large amounts of food; I will eat with my new family in my new country. And I will not regret those lazy, comfortable Thanksgivings in another time and place. Perhaps today will not be the most relaxing day I've ever had, but I hope to feel and show the same quiet love and affection for my family that I have always felt, and always will. Because, despite it all, I am still blessed, and there is still so much to be thankful for.