Thanksgiving is always the time of year when we are forced to contemplate those things which make us grateful. I use the word “forced” not as a criticism, but as a fact: the whole holiday is designed around focusing our attention on the plenitude of gifts we’ve been given since the last time we gathered around the jiggling cranberry sauce. Perhaps forced is not the correct word. Encouraged is a gentler term.
But I have to admit that I always feel a little resentful of the campaign to make me acknowledge my privilege. When I say “privilege,” I am not referring to the word that triggers woke folk. They have taken a perfectly lovely noun and turned it into a battle cry, so I always use it advisedly. In this context, I am referring to the things that make me glad to be alive, and cognizant of those gifts and graces that put me in a more fortunate posture with respect to those who are standing in line for their free Thanksgiving meal at the soup kitchen.
If that sounds harsh, it’s meant to be. I am a woman who has never experienced hunger, thirst, serious physical pain or illness, or the scourge of war. And yet, I do not lead an Instagram-perfect life. Far from it. In a few days I will turn 61, and the aspects of my youth are peeling away with increasing speed. My hair is grayer, my middle is thicker, my skin is thinner (literally, not figuratively) and my gait is slower. No amount of exercise will stop the advances of age, and no amount of Botox will fool the unsuspecting into believing my frozen expression is natural. I am getting older.
And yet, I am now 19 years older than my father ever got to be, cut down at the age of 43 by cancer. I am 31 years older than my brother ever got to be, gone to the angels months before his 31st birthday. I am 3 years older than my beloved Pop Pop ever got to be, turned into an old man by emphysema and leaving us on the cusp of Christmas, at 58. I am 21 years older than my aunt ever got to be, taken in the night by a cruel and unexpected heart attack. I have lived years they never had, and they have been good ones, so for that I give thanks.
I give thanks for the fact that the heat of summer has finally, finally given way to the knife-sharp winds of November, cold and unforgiving and exactly as they should be when the golden leaves fall. I kneel and feel gratitude that I had my mother, the most wonderful creature God fashioned, for three quarters of a century, living in the same house and by her side for my entire life. She filled the space where both mother and father should have been, in the wake of Daddy’s premature death.
I thank God, again, for friends like Kim and Jeanne, Aparna and Anna Maria, Linda and Vanessa. These ties are not perfect, and they have been chipped and buffeted by the years they’ve been lived, but they are the gold in my personal Fort Knox.
I rejoice in my sister Tara, a singular woman of strength, a beauty and a warrior, and in my brother Teddy, who was born on my 4th Christmas and has proven to be the greatest gift that holiday gave me (albeit I didn’t think so at the time when my mother went into labor as I was opening up my Easy Bake Oven.) My nephew is my greatest joy, and in him I deposit my future hopes.
I am grateful for the immigrants who’ve taught me what courage and resilience mean, and forgiveness. How can you describe people who have suffered unmentionable horrors at home, and still have the faith to rebuild their lives in a strange land?
Most of all, I am grateful for this time, this moment, because it is all I have and all I am guaranteed. The hope of a future is precious, the memory of a past is cherished, but the here and the now is my bedrock, and I will cling to it, along with the turkey drumstick and the visions of those gone ahead. I expect that I will meet them again, and thank them for the life they made possible.
Happy Thanksgiving, to all of you.