Thanksgiving 2020: Alone again, unnaturally

We’ve made our preparations for Thanksgiving Day. Maybe the bird on the table will be a turkey breast, a duck, a small slab of vegan roast, or something as tiny as a Cornish game hen. We’ve reduced the number of potatoes, the volume of stuffing.

We’ve also canceled the plane reservations or the plans for a long drive to a friend’s house. If we live alone, chances are that we will still be alone on the one day of the year when we’d been pretty much guaranteed the warmth and comfort of companionship. If we’re lucky, we’ve formed a social bubble with a couple of pals and will make a feast with them.

There doesn’t seem much to be thankful for as we approach this holiday. COVID-19 infection rates are surging again, as is the death rate, and maybe it’s a good thing we don’t have guests for the long weekend because it could be hard to find enough toilet paper for all of them.

Many of the schools that were back in session are now closing again. Students are falling farther and farther behind where they would have been in a traditional school year. Stores, restaurants and salons and other services are still hurting; more businesses are threatened with permanent closure. Unlike when this whole thing started just before spring, the days now are growing colder, shorter, darker.

We’ve given up so much already. Sunrise Easter services and Passover Seders, typically large gatherings of family and community, were canceled or held in online meeting rooms. So were graduations, Fourth of July fireworks, summer vacations, back-to-school nights.

And now we’re hit with what feels like the ultimate insult: rising disease rates after all the sacrifices made months ago to “flatten the curve,” just as America prepares for what used to be a day of large gatherings with those we love — and those with whom we argue politics. It’s one of the few times a year when people can fit into both categories at once.

Looking forward to the biggest travel day of the year, we’re told by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to stay home. On the busiest shopping day of the year, we won’t be able to crowd into stores for hours. If we’re smart, we’ll heed the warnings to not fly, not gather indoors with multiple households and not join large gatherings. We’ll keep our masks on except when eating, limit time spent together and confine our socializing to safe distances outdoors, which in Southern California might be a possibility.

Far worse, we don’t know when or how all this is going to end. The Pilgrims were celebrating survival at the first Thanksgiving. We’re wondering how many of us will survive and how long we’ll have to worry. For that matter, the pandemic has forced us to confront how many Americans live close to the edge of survival all the time, with food and housing insecurity, a tenuous hold on employment and poor health that goes untended.

But at the same time that we mourn what’s missing, we also can remember what the Pilgrims were ultimately celebrating. They were thankful for having the resilience — and the help of Native Americans — to make it through a challenging time of deprivation in a new land.

We are also in a new land, figuratively speaking, one of great uncertainty. And we too have people helping us through: dedicated medical researchers developing treatments and vaccines; doctors and nurses risking their lives to care for the sick; essential workers keeping us stocked with food, electricity and water.

Let’s show our gratitude for their aid. We can work toward our shared survival by producing the personal protective gear needed by front-line healthcare workers and other essential staff, supporting those in need, and keeping our social distances big, our complaining low and our masks on. That and not panic-buying toilet paper.

Tired as we all are of the new routines, we’re showing determination and a measure of creativity. Some people have been isolating for days already, maybe getting COVID-19 tests as well, willing to do whatever it takes to be able to greet people they care about on Thanksgiving Day and possibly even give them a hug. Others are planning video calls to take the edge off their loneliness, and yet others deliver food and comfort to those who need help with survival at the most elemental levels.

Alone and collectively, we will face the uncertainty. That resilience is our strength, for which we can give thanks.

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