Some of my best memories through the years begin at Thanksgiving. Football games on the day or the evening before, between Saint Mary’s in Lynn and Bishop Fenwick in Peabody. All the family around the table (or two tables when there was a kid’s table, and then the next generation’s kids’ table in what seemed like a very short period of time!). Conversation about everything in the world, except politics. And then politics made it onto our Thanksgiving menu and spiced up the meal. I remember through the years looking around that table, encircled by love. Seeing faces age and then leave us. Seeing new faces, smiles and voices emerge.
In other words, I love Thanksgiving. It has remained the one major holiday of the year least affected by commercialization, least infected by the earlier and perennial pandemic of greed. And so, this Thanksgiving – though I am happy to see it come – pains me. It pains me to think of all the gatherings this Thursday where grandparents, moms, dads, aunts and uncles, old friends who always stopped by for dessert will be missing, casualties of Covid-19, among the some 260,000 dead by today. Every single of one of them carried unique gifts not only to that gathering once a year, but to every table at which they sat, and every conversation into which they entered. The vast majority of that number, were it not for the pandemic, would be in palace as always this Thanksgiving too.
But it pains me as much to think of the agonizing result that could come – and I pray with all my heart that it will not – from the travel, the time together, the sharing of the meal, the laughter, the songs, the embraces of this Thanksgiving. All the things that make that day together all it means to us have become dangers, have become weapons wielded by the virus. It’s not that it’s wrong to celebrate. It’s that it is profoundly risky to do so, especially during this hourly-increasing peak of this scourge.
The irony is that we stand at the nearest point to having effective tools against the virus in our hands, or rather, in our arms. This is the intersection of life and death with a clarity we rarely witness in a lifetime, any lifetime. And I cannot help but wonder – I beg you to excuse me for doing so – why we could not have exercised as a people a profound patience to attempt to match the extreme pain? Why could we not have announced a new date for this year’s Thanksgiving, happening (yes!) bizarrely next year at some point, but happening safely? Why could we not have found it in our hearts to care enough for one another, even the strangers, to slow down one more time, to sustain our meager-enough efforts in distancing and masking and washing, to wait to give thanks until the reason for thanksgiving will be so brilliantly obvious that the shout of joy would be as unanimous as a fractured nation can accomplish together?
I pray this Thanksgiving provides only joy, only the nearness of loved ones, only gratitude for the blessings we still have in all their number and variety, only a steadfast hope for the future, near and far. For that I pray. But my fear? It is menacing indeed, and my allied prayer is that my fear might be misplaced.
God bless the people of the United States this week, and in the weeks to follow.