(Written earlier today en route to a wonderful holiday celebration.)
"I am grateful: for the enormous hearts of friends; for all the words that seem to find my eyes at just the right times; for my niece and how she can make food out of love, and vice-versa; for the solid roof over my head; for the way rain caresses the streets of my city; for cats, in general; for the ability of strangers to suddenly find each other and become one; for the miracles of science; for the fact there there are no miracles, because life in general is just one, big, amazing invention; for the blood in my veins; for the love I’ve been given and the love I have to share."
Above, my contribution to the Shine The Divine Gratitude Quilt—see here for beautiful words about why we're lucky to be alive. My day began with a little holiday breakfast with friends, and I'm now en route to my niece's new home for a magnificent feast. (I'm not particularly grateful for two hours on the train next to a woman who is talking on her cell phone in a really loud voice--about, unsurprisingly, her recent hearing test. But this wouldn't be a Jewish blog without some kvetching, right?). Thanksgiving was never a big deal when I was a kid, and always a bit depressing. I became inured to the cycle of feeling jealous and certain the whole world had better families than mine--followed, after reaching the stage of complete misery, by shrugging it off and acknowledging that things weren't so bad, after all. When I was really little, we went to my Aunt Lil's house for turkey and decorating the Christmas tree. Aunt Lil was my mother's very Catholic best friend from a childhood as part of the only Jewish family in a tiny Queens neighborhood (eventually plowed under by the BQE). I had a very Catholic best friend back then, as well, despite living in a massively Jewish neighborhood, so assumed this interfaith experience of Thanksgiving was de rigeur.
Then my parents divorced, and Thanksgiving turned into dinner at my (related by blood) aunt and uncle's. Sometimes we went out to eat, and other years did nothing at all. I don't remember much about those occasions, aside from one really depressing time at a steakhouse chain in the mall a few months before my mother died. I'm amazed, in retrospect, that she had the energy to go anywhere at all; I wish I had understood the extent of this sacrifice at the time.
But I've come to realize that my checkered holiday experiences have left me in better shape than others I know who now find themselves without family, for whatever reason, and remain stuck at the miserable part. I feel for them—but also want to slap them like Cher in Moonstruck: "Snap out of it!" Today is one of the few Thanksgivings of my adult life that I'll spend with more than one actual family member. Many past dinners took place at restaurants with wonderful friends I'll miss very much tonight, where we ate vast amounts and felt free of traditional tsuris. We live in a family-centered culture, and even in this modern era of new and fluid definitions of the word it sometimes feels like those of us without a large assortment of relatives have second class status. I know a number of people who are ashamed to admit having nowhere to go on Thanksgiving. (I hasten to add that I know more who are role models for how to reach out with strength, humor and compassion during even the crappiest of circumstances.)
So I do my best to make Thanksgiving into an occasion to share gratitude with friends--nice if they happen to be family, but equally wonderful if not. Meanwhile, about an hour away right now from some delicious food, and the loud woman just got off--a reason to be doubly thankful.