This post is for those of you feeling like you might just be from the island of misfit toys this Thanksgiving. If you’ve never felt this way during the start of the holiday season, all the more reason to give thanks.
And if you’re feeling that way this holiday season, a friendly reminder from little ‘ole me that you are not alone.
I planned on Thanksgiving with my family, which is great. I’m still going to spend it with my family, which continues to be great. There is a slight change in plans, however, in that I’m no longer happily barefoot.
Considering I’ve spent other Thanksgivings alone or with my mother in the hospital as she began a short six weeks to dying, me having the other shoe drop in a relationship is not the end of the world. It is hard, but there are people in far worse straits.
The real point is: many of us are spending the holiday in a way different than we might have imagined.
Take the year I spent Thanksgiving alone. I did not have my kids that day and my family was hundreds of miles away, too far to have visited just for the day. I did not feel up to spending the day with someone else’s happy family; it was too much of a contrast to what I was feeling that year. And yet, being alone that holiday was less than ideal. Oh, let’s just say it—it was lonely, despite being less lonely than pretending amongst others I was in a happy place.
I’m not alone in the solo holiday bit. I know divorced women who have done the same the year following their split. None crow about how relaxing the day was; most instead say it sucked. But it is sometimes part and parcel of a shift into a new kind of normal post-divorce. You just hope and pray it does not repeat itself and you don’t end up an 80-year-old woman with lots of cats.
A friend is spending Thanksgiving away from her family for the first time in a decade, after her mother’s death this past year. And you’ll never guess who she is spending it with—a Chinese family that has never celebrated Thanksgiving but is hosting it this year for many of their Chinese friends. My friend and her children will be the token Americans at this inaugural dinner. We laughed about it in a recent conversation because it’s a scene that could easily be part of a Woody Allen film. She is not sure this is her idea of an ideal holiday but it is what is presenting itself. She is going with it.
In the grocery store this evening, I heard one clerk ask another if she was working Thanksgiving (she was). This store is open despite the holiday. Probably not the way she wants to spend her evening but she said she needed the money.
This week, as I wrapped my head around my changed plans, I gave thanks. Through gritted teeth, but I gave thanks. I did so because I remembered a story Oprah told about advice Maya Angelou gave her. Something less than great had befallen her and she was crying to Maya about it on the phone. Maya asked her to stop crying and give thanks before anything else. Thanks for the good that would come out of the sadness, for the lessons learned, for whatever God’s plan was.
Tonight, driving home after a movie with a friend, down a quiet winding road, I saw the beauty of Chicago’s first snowfall this season. The trees looked as if touched with a paintbrush. And I was able to give real thanks to the Universe. For the good that will come out of my sadness, for the lessons learned, for whatever God’s plan is.
That was tonight. Tomorrow, I may be back to gritted teeth. But tonight, victory lap.
Take yours this year, if it is offered to you. Victory laps beat the alternative. And if a victory lap is not in the cards, know you are not the only one trying to be thankful for what feels like a thankless situation. Think of those working, those with an extra seat at the table that may sadden them, those trying to teach their Chinese friends the art of oyster stuffing and mashed sweet potatoes (and hopefully, that last one will make you laugh).
I think the Universe gives extra credit for gritted teeth. And so many of us have had those years.