What a peculiar Thanksgiving. Another strange day in a long season of worry, perseverance, adaptation, resilience and grief.
In normal years, Thanksgiving is effusive: a burst-at-the-seams celebration of abundance and more personal blessings. This year, bowing to pandemic realities, the only responsible way to celebrate is modestly and with restraint.
This year, the usual warm embrace of friends and extended family around a feast-laden dining room table comes with peril. Celebrations will be small, short, distanced or nonexistent to help slow the spread of COVID-19. For those who have lost jobs, good health or loved ones, today won’t be a celebration of bounty. Instead, it will be another painful reminder that we live in difficult times.
But the shadow of Thanksgiving has always been scarcity and survival. We celebrate bounty because it’s never guaranteed. Although many comforting traditions must be shelved today — just for now — there is so much to be grateful for. Not least, that this year has crystallized our commitment to shared values and brought our blessings into stark relief.
You see it in this summer’s historic outcry against racial injustice and in record-breaking election turnout. By the millions, people are demanding more just, equitable and trustworthy public institutions.
In creative ways, big and small, we have come together to help each other. We’ve made new efforts to support friends, colleagues, neighbors and local businesses. We’ve adopted public-health precautions even on days, like today, when doing so calls for greater sacrifice and tests our commitment to the greater good.
We have learned to appreciate the doctors and nurses who have been the front-line heroes during this pandemic, and the health aides, grocery store clerks, delivery workers, tradespeople and others who take care of us and keep our communities humming. Finally, these folks were recognized as the essential workers they’ve always been.
We have learned new ways to work, learn and communicate, deploying technology and adapting old systems in ways that are unprecedented, if imperfect. We’ve made extra effort to connect with one another while social distancing and from behind a mask. Long after the threat of the pandemic is over, many of these improvements will endure.
The year hasn’t been easy, and it is far from over. The ugly truths and fault lines laid bare by this tumultuous year won’t resolve themselves. It will take sustained commitment and concerted effort to make our communities the better version of themselves. Although competent federal leadership and effective vaccines appear to be on the horizon, there is a long way, and an even longer recovery, to go.
But on this unusually quiet Thanksgiving, it’s worth reflecting on all we’ve learned and done that will be the foundation of future successes. We’ve been tested. We’re surviving. We’re on the verge of something more.