A Traveling Holiday
This year, Thanksgiving falls on Thursday, November 27. Or so they would have you believe. With life as complicated as it is, and everything from DVD players to the Internet being “wireless,” doesn’t it stand to reason that holidays can be portable too?
Holidays, especially Thanksgiving, are usually happy, food-filled marks of a specific time of year. With leaves crunching underfoot and the air cold and crisp, Thanksgiving feels like an end, a culminating time — a time to reflect, a time to look back and give thanks.
But some years are better than others, and so far for me, 2003 has not been a great one. It began with an awful stomach flu that set in on New Year’s Day. I should have seen that as the omen it was. Then my husband’s Army Reserve unit was called up and deployed to Kuwait. Later, like so many other units, the Army extended the deployment to be “one year in theater,” six months longer than expected. My parents’ dog died. My great-uncle died. My dryer broke. My car broke. My other car broke. And so on.
At times over the past year I’ve felt angry, sad, blessed, resentful, hopeful, despairing and tired. I wrote an essay for Beliefnet.com, called “Lucky/Cursed,” about how these feelings are my coping mechanisms for getting through my husband’s long deployment, and I was surprised that readers responded vehemently with accusations that I was whining and unpatriotic. In news article after news article, spokespeople for Army Reserves family organizations are quoted as saying that the best thing we can do for our loved ones is to sound bright and cheery when they call and tell them that we’re just fine. They want and need to hear that we’re happy. They want and need us to pretend.
I can pretend to do a lot of things — I can pretend to be busy; I can pretend to be social; I can pretend to be in a good mood when I’m not. But I don’t have to be thankful for that ability.
So I am not. I hereby proclaim that I am not thankful for war or death or the “life lessons” that either should supposedly be teaching me during this annus horribilis.
But pretending can come in handy, as I found out when I thought about the things that I am truly grateful for in this hard year.
Chief among these — aside from the pride I feel in my husband’s service — is my gratitude that he was able to come home recently for a two-week R & R leave. During his visit, his parents hosted a “Thanksgiving in October,” an all-out holiday bash with all the stuffing, turkey and lasagna (they’re half-Italian) we could eat. Everybody played along. There were turkey-themed decorations, and his parents’ neighbors brought us turkey Beanie Babies as gifts. The family took it so seriously that one cousin was concerned that flowers she had ordered wouldn’t be delivered on time — do they make deliveries on Thanksgiving Day?
The celebration left both my husband, Rob, and me with the feeling that even though he is missing an entire year of our life at home, it turns out that some of the special feelings we associate with days like Thanksgiving are portable. Holidays and their accompanying sensations can sometimes migrate to where we are, whether it’s the nourishment of Thanksgiving in October, or the way I was reminded of the freedom of Passover while letting go of painful “life lessons.”
So as I make a mental list of things that I am thankful for this year, I can almost make a parallel list of holidays that traveled through the calendar to find me when I needed them most.
I recall the sweetness and hope of Rosh Hashana as I realize that I’m thankful for the future, where holidays come on time and loved ones are together where they belong. My Purim moment is that I’m thankful for friends and family who know just when to call. Shavuot presents itself when I feel thankful for books, which open up worlds from Middle Earth to the Middle Ages.
And finally, in the spirit of a holiday that is not Jewish but evokes the same sense of annual rhythm as Jewish holidays do, here is my American moment: I’m grateful that I was able to have Thanksgiving dinner with my husband. We might have had to pretend it was November 27, but everything important about it was blissfully real.