November 30th, 2003


Thanksgiving parallels

Thanksgiving has a sense of importance attached to it, but the main importance we gain from it is rest. And togetherness. The long weekend is the most built-in time off of the year for many people. We spend a disproportionate time making preparations for the day, but we know it's worth it. And when we're done the family feast, lavish unlike no other of the year, the stereotype is to sit and sleep it off, the paragon of relaxation and rest. We all have our own traditions that we carry out faithfully every Thanksgiving, and more than anything else, that is what makes Thanksgiving what it is. Sure, sometimes we wish we didn't have to go through all the trouble, or we wish one aspect could go away, or in the extreme case we may wish it weren't Thanksgiving at all. But we do it anyway, and generally speaking, we do enjoy it and find it worthwhile.

My point? Thanksgiving's role in the year has the same meaning for most Americans as Shabbat's role in each week has for me.

Aside from the family togetherness, Thanksgiving weekend for me is about seeing friends from out of town. College-age people may go away or to a camp or program during the three longer breaks in the school year, but nearly everyone comes home for Thanksgiving. Too important to stay where you are, but too short to go somewhere else. This break I spent a solid evening and scattered other time with primarily members of my high school's class of '02, generally three years younger than me. They were the group of repatriated out-of-towners I could be with that I felt most at home with. And indeed I was welcomed by all, and I wasn't the only person there that one evening who didn't graduate with the rest anyway.

But still. It occured to me, not for the first time, that the groups I feel most comfortable with aren't ones I'm really a member of, and the groups that I feel a member of I tend to feel less in touch with than everyone else in them does.

The day after that gathering was Thanksgiving day, and as my mom was away on vacation, I drove up to my dad's to be with him and my stepfamily. The guests at our meal consisted of me, my dad, my stepmom, and her two kids, mother, sister, brother-in-law, and nephew. They all tend to see each other about once a week, though not all at once. The eight of them always have Thanksgiving and Memorial Day together, always have Christmas and Easter together. I'm always invited, but I'm sometimes with my mom for Thanksgiving and Memorial Day, and I sometimes feel weird going to celebrations of holidays for a religion that's not mine. On Thanksgiving, everyone was happy to see me, and I was happy to see them, and I was definitely part of the family for the day, but the family would be there without me, and is there without me about half the time.

I don't feel I've lacked for close friends over the past 10 years or so, compared to others I know. But maybe I've lacked the closeness that I need. I don't feel I've lacked for sheer numbers of friends since I worked out or embraced my various social abnormalities. I had about 6 groups of friends at Penn who were important to me. But most of the people in those groups mainly had themselves first and foremost, and maybe I should've tried to do that instead.

When I was nine, I spent every other weekend at my dad's. One time I went to get myself breakfast, and found that the two best-looking cereals in the cabinet each had the name of one of my step-brothers inked on it. I complained to my dad, but he said it was something they started so that no one would run out of their favorite cereal too soon. I asked for my own, but he explained that a box of cereal might go bad if only two bowls were eaten every two weeks. After a bit, he readily relented, but only after realizing, in a way a nine-year-old couldn't, that it was about more than cereal.