Growing up, Thanksgiving used to be my favorite holiday out of the entire year, even more than Christmas and its promise of presents. It was the day out of the year where family squabbles would be put aside and I was most likely to see all my siblings, nephews, and nieces gathered together under one roof. In our home, once everything was laid out and everything had taken their seats, it was my mother’s custom for everyone at the table to take a turn and express what it was that they were most thankful for that year — even the youngest children who barely had the cognitive & speech development to grasp the concept of being thankful got a turn to reflect and share. After dinner was done and the space cleared, the rest of the night would be spent in mass harmonious familial coexistence. Every year, I looked forward to that time of togetherness, to getting my turn to have everyone hear me verbalize how happy I was to have everyone gathered together and always çhallenging myself to do a better job than I had the year before.
When I lost most of my family after the fateful summer of 2001, my feelings toward Thanksgiving began to sour. For the better part of the decade that followed, I still had an active relationship with one of my sisters and getting together with her family was still something I looked forward to. Yet, in the recesses of my mind, I carried a private lament that the times of family-wide reunions would no longer come again. In the past handful of years that I’ve been completely separated from my entire family, fighting my way out of depression by myself and killing off my emotions in the process, that soured feeling towards Thanksgiving has turned into a yearly dread.
I still very much believe in the spirit of Thanksgiving, but like many other things in life, I’ve come to accept it as something that other people get to have and experience that I no longer get to. I see friends on social media sharing their get-togethers with family & loves ones and feel happy for them, all the while feeling the stings of the reality that it’s been a long time since I’ve felt that perfect sense of absolute unity and belonging myself, and the strong likelihood that I won’t ever get to again.
My attempts to look at things objectively and be thankful for the “small” things don’t fare much better — they come loaded with guilt.
I tell myself I should be thankful for my current job and the fact that I’m not stuck in a dead-end drudge like I was before, but immediately think of all the people out there who are.
I tell myself I should be thankful for the comforts of “first-world” life and the luxury of having a warm bed that I can sink into at the end of my day, but there are millions of others out there that can’t because they weren’t born in the right place/time like I was. To focus on that is effectively feeling relief that I’m not suffering as much as other people in the world are without having done anything special to deserve such an exemption.
I tell myself that there are plenty of people & friends in my life that I should be thankful for, but the ways that my experience with the disillusionment of unconditional love, support, and trust with my family and my efforts in removing myself from my own emotions keep me from feeling gratitude for them. To not feel thankful for them them now reinforces just how broken and incapable of basic human function I’ve become over the course of my life. To force myself to be thankful for them in spite of all the above feels like I’m relegating them as consolation prizes to a nobody.
Such is the way things have been for years now, and the way I refuse to let things continue. That is why this year, instead of holing up and shutting myself away for the day like has become customary, I’ve decided to take up an invitation to go spend Thanksgiving in the company of said friends.