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No thanks, no thanks, no thanks, no thanks

November 27, 2009 pm30 4:48 pm

Family, teaching in NYC, foreign policy, and family again.

Thanksgiving should be a good day. For everyone, yes, but certainly for me.

In my mother’s extended family (my uncles and aunts, their kids, their kids’ kids, minus her father for decades, and her mother, my grandmother, for just the last three years) – it is the single annual event that we all come to. In my forty odd years, I missed Thanksgiving once – I was in the middle of two months in Turkey – and even then I made a long, long call from Antalya, saying hi to a bunch of those gathered. Likewise, a younger cousin was missing yesterday – but she is working as an au pair in France, and she called.

It is a gathering. Some come early and help cook. Around 1 the rest arrive. Conversation – kids play – a snack or two. We eat, break for more kids playing… some of us go for a walk. Dessert. Games. Turkey soup… We straggle out late. It’s the gathering. It’s our tradition. It’s our day. And my sister tried to make other plans. Ouch. Did some opportunity come up? Maybe, but…. whatever it was, it didn’t happen. But she quietly announced that she would miss next year. Forty years is enough. It’s not that there is something else, it’s that she’d rather be anywhere but. Nasty. I feel worst for my mother.

Thanksgiving was also the day we got to mull over the salvo Bloomberg lobbed at the teachers of New York City. The timing was perfect.

And Thanksgiving also gives us a chance to reflect on the troop build-ups Obama’s about to announce for Afghanistan. More stuff to not be thankful for.

But back to the meal. Our tradition has been to gather. That’s it. And, thinking about it, that’s really perfect for us – a collection of mostly non-practicing Jews, with spouses with a variety of backgrounds, probably the group in its majority agnostic, but a few of us, me included, not superstitious at all. The gathering has been it.

But a few years ago my sister (practicing) got her kids to give thanks at the table. Then she added that each of us should say thanks in turn. I’ve reluctantly participated, or taken a pass. It feels like mandatory prayer, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to be coerced into that. (Damned if I do… that’s kind of funny?) Who am I supposed to thank? Anyway, it’s coming up, and I whisper over that I’ll excuse myself, and she says no, I should just pass when my turn comes, and I sit through 20 uncomfortable benedictions, and I’m last and I pass and my she whines at me, out loud, that I should just say something. And she prompts a kid or two to join in.

Having one’s beliefs ignored, and by family? It was hard to put away the bad feeling and relax. I left earlier than I have ever left Thanksgiving before. Awful to say: I won’t miss her next year.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 28, 2009 pm30 7:54 pm 7:54 pm

    I’m certain your sister would be happy to explain that being thankful is good for you, so you should do it. Or else! My own sister is conventionally religious but unconventionally easy-going about it. She does not conspire to drag her siblings into religious observances. (She didn’t even force her non-Catholic fiance to convert before their wedding, although he would have done it if she had made it an issue. She’s all about sincerity and that spares us a lot of hassles.)

    I don’t know how much longer the mandatory family holidays will survive, but certainly things will begin to unravel when my parents are gone. Then perhaps I’ll feel petty for having complained about the minor aggravations that attend the events.

  2. November 29, 2009 am30 1:24 am 1:24 am

    What you describe here reminds me of “mandatory volunteer work” – from when I was in high school. Kind of removes the point of volunteering, or of being thankful when it is required!

    It sounds like maybe your sister is questioning big things under the surface there… and maybe she is asking for something else, hidden within her request for you to be thankful.

    For the same reason most people feel thankful, I feel uneasy and uncomfortable being thankful for things (like family and work) that other people are constantly losing. We don’t do a prayer or “thanks” anymore. For me, taking time to be together is the thanks we share.

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