Holiday Aloneness

By Hannah Lee

In our modern, frenetic society, people are often far from loved ones for the holidays, whether for studies, work, or national service.  As the retail establishments bring out their holiday decorations earlier than ever — Nordstroms, however, has promised not to do so until after Thanksgiving —  the atmosphere of forced cheer and gaiety can prove difficult for some of us.  So, what can be done about it?

I’ll paraphrase the late President John F. Kennedy who’d said in his inaugural speech on January, 1961, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”  The remedy for self-pity and loneliness is to take action for others.  In all the years of my marriage, my husband has had to work on Thanksgiving and certainly on the Friday afterward, so it’s not a long weekend for us to visit with family (and none choose to visit us, maybe because they do not want a turkey-less meal).  However, Thanksgiving continues to be my favorite American holiday.

One year, when my first-born child was very young and her father was to be on call for Thanksgiving, I signed up to help serve a meal the day before while she was still in daycare (I paid for extended hours that day).  I drove to a section of North Philadelphia where some of the buildings had busted windows and I found that I was the only person not of African origin.  I felt safe, though, because the organizers lead everyone in prayer at the beginning of the meal.

More after the jump.
When my daughters grew older, we have volunteered with MANNA, preparing and delivering meals to the home-bound chronically ill.  The early-morning kitchen stints, however, were hard for teens who like to sleep later than their usual 6 am wake-up call on school days.  Delivering to the various depressed neighborhoods where the clients live has been an eye-opening experience to my suburban children.  Driving with my children can be a comedy routine at times, as I am a bad driver and my elder daughter is an ill-tempered navigator.  My younger daughter, in turn, has been more patient with me.

Others have devised their own rituals.  Our cello teacher and his talented violinist wife, both émigrés far from family members, would bring their sons to perform as a string quartet for hospital patients.  A few years ago, I started a Giving Thanks notebook, where I invited my family to jot down their thoughts for the year.  My husband and younger daughter have consistently declined, but my elder daughter and I take pleasure in contributing to it and more so, in re-reading previous entries.

I do take care in serving new and favored dishes for Thanksgiving, but the meaning of the holiday is in giving thanks, acknowledging our freedom and our privilege.  That we can do even when we are far from loved ones.

Cartoon reprinted courtesy of Yaakov (Dry Bones) Kirschen


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