gratitudes and platitudes

We went to a friend’s place for Thanksgiving Dinner today. It was a bit hectic, and understandably so! Our hosts, “Lina” and “Arius,” were juggling a baby less than a year old, a teenager, and meal production for/ entertainment of two guest families — not an easy task, and I was in awe of Lina’s good temper, patience, and hostessing skills.

The other family sharing the meal today was the “Bings”, comprised of, “Brienne,” “Tony,” and their three children. I know Brienne from back in the day, when we went to the same church together. We reconnected a few years ago, and she’s overall just a super awesome, sweet, generous, cheerful, and intelligent person — actually, she’s a lot like Lina, to be honest, which is why I introduced them earlier this year.

Lina had a full schedule of optional activities for the day — arts and crafts for the kids in the morning and dinner around 3:30 in the afternoon, followed by a walk and a movie. It sounded brilliant, but also utterly exhausting.

My son and I can be pretty high-sensitivity at situations like this — not, like, easily insulted, we just get super over-stimulated by all the people, conversation, noise, heat, activities, etc. etc. pretty easily. I’ve typically dealt with it by smoking, which I’m trying to step away from (obviously). My son tends to react with a meltdown, because he’s 11. Not a temper-tantrum, everyone look-at-me meltdown; it’s more like he shuts down and stops interacting, and gets weepy or angry when people don’t respect his stated desire to be left alone. I’m trying to both manage my own high-sensitivity better through acknowledging it and setting personal boundaries and self-imposed time limits, and to model personal-responsibility and emotional self-management to my son.

So we eschewed the arts/ crafts portion and arrived at 2 p.m. The plan was to come early, help fix dinner, visit and go on the walk, then head home before the movie. I have a hard time sitting still through films (I blame my mom, I don’t think she ever watched a film without pausing it at least once).

If you’re getting a sense that I’m somewhat introverted and dislike social interaction, you would be partially correct. Basically, my favorite social activity is talking with 3 or fewer friends, preferably over food or coffee, for visit of 2 hours or less. Add in more time or people, and I tend to get overwhelmed from the plethora of visual/ audio/ tactile/ olfactory/ temperature stimuli. I usually deal with extensive social interaction by taking lots of cigarette breaks, or (if it’s a party with alcohol), getting quietly and desperately drunk in an effort to dull the sensory intake.

So we arrive, and things seem to be on schedule. Arius is washing dishes and Lina is nursing Nib. The turkey is done, pies are on the counter, and it seems that only the stuffing needs to be completed. I ask Lina if I can help with anything, and am soon happily zesting a lemon and chatting with Lina as she prepares what will become a truly incredible spinach-pomegranate-pecan-mandarin salad with a lemon vinaigrette dressing. That woman can cook!

Tony, Brienne, and the kids return from walking the dogs, and Brienne joins us in the kitchen while the guys play video games. Very June Cleaver, if the Cleavers had video games. It’s a crowded kitchen, though, so I can’t throw too much shade at the guys. Besides, Arius probably helped before the guests arrived, and Tony did make the gravy. Plus, I really like having the ladies-only time.

Lina is one of those rare and talented cooks whose ego is not tied up in being the sole cook. She is both excellent at preparing food and in delegating responsibilities. It’s such a relief, and makes for a smooth-running kitchen. And I loved that I was accepted into the kitchen and given tasks to do. It was like family meals when I was younger, with my whole family milling around and everyone expected to pitch in. It doesn’t feel like you’re really accepted if you’re not allowed to help in the kitchen.

The meal was a little delayed, but nobody really cared because we were having fun hanging out. I did get a little overheated/ overstrung and really craving a cigarette a couple times, but I’m trying a new thing — when I get over-stimulated, instead of going outside to smoke, I just go outside instead. No cigarette, just outside. The truth is, I’ve always gone outside because it’s quiet and a break; the cigarette was initially the addictive excuse so people wouldn’t think I hated their faces, and also because only weirdos and addicts choose to go stand alone in the rain or cold for 15 minutes instead of socializing with friends inside. I’ve cut down significantly (0-3 cigarettes a week and no self-purchased packs), but I feel like to be successful, I have to be okay with taking some recharge time for myself when I’m at social functions.

I did step outside a few times today. John noticed, and being the sweet and perceptive husband that he is, he realized I was getting overwhelmed by all the heat/ noise/ people inside. After about 10 minutes, just as I was thinking about being social again, John came outside with Kidling and started kicking a soccer ball around. I joined in and pretty soon we had a game of kick-the-ball going. Soon enough, Brienne and her son joined us, then Lina’s teenager made it out there, too. It was really fun — Brienne said we should do this every year, and have like a trophy that we pass on, like the football tradition in Friends. I concur.

Then we had dinner, and just . . . wow. Wow. Lina went all out. It was amazing. She had this recipe for cornbread-tofu-cranberry stuffing that was just delectable. She made the cranberry sauce from fresh cranberries and mint. She had this crazy delicious spicy pomegranate-sweet potato dish that was like heaven in a platter, and she had made about three or four pies. Also, the requisite mashed potatoes, turkey, blanched green beans with almond slivers, and sweet potato casserole, as well as a bunch of rolls and stuff. In short, it was a delicious gourmet spread.

The food was set up buffet-style, because there were so many people. We were supposed to grab plates and go eat wherever we could sit, nice and casual. I felt like a complete and utter idiot, because as we began to crowd around the table, I asked, “So, do we, like, give thanks or anything?”

Arius and Tony gave me a shocked look and laughed. They weren’t mean about it, just kind of . . . nonplussed, I think. We tend, in our culture, to equate “give thanks” with “pray,” so hearing me propose the idea must have been startling, at best.

I didn’t mean pray. I’m an atheist, so don’t for a minute think this is something to do with religion. The idea of “thankfulness” and “gratitude” is is actually a Thanksgiving concept I’ve been wrestling with for awhile now.

A few weeks ago, my dad asked me how atheists celebrate Thanksgiving. I said, “Well, I don’t know about celebrate, dad. I enjoy the day off with my family and I like good food as much as anyone, but I don’t particularly celebrate the genocide that accompanied the colonization of this country. So I like the holiday for family-time, but I’m uncomfortable with what it stands for because, well, genocide.”

My dad kind of laughed and replied, “So what you’re saying is that you don’t give thanks to god on Thanksgiving?”

To which I replied, “No. I do not thank the great sky-daddy for genocide,” and we both kind of laughed uncomfortably because it’s an uncomfortable topic.

And truth be told, I have a hard time in general with the concept of, “giving thanks,” or saying, “I’m grateful for [good things in my life],” because those phrasings both seem to indicate in  a vague way that the thanks/ gratitude is directed toward a higher being. I’ve noticed, too, that there seems to be a growing assumption in recent years that only spiritual or religious people “gives thanks,” hence the startled pause when I suggested the exercise, as though everyone just heard the words, “Shall we pray?” instead of, “Should we give thanks?”

I need to find another way to phrase it, but I feel like any way you try to say it is awkward. It’s pretty simple, though — I am grateful for my life, and for all the people and decisions that led to where I am today.

  • I am grateful that my parents decided to settle here, in this town, because that meant that I was in the position and place to meet my husband, who moved to this town as a teenager. I am grateful that his family moved here, too, because otherwise we would not have met.
  • I am grateful that through the privileges afforded to me through the situation of my birth and my parents, I have had ready access to clean water, plentiful food, indoor plumbing, and (generally) affordable education.
  • I am grateful I worked at Summit, because that’s where I met Lina. She has become like a sister to me. Despite the scammy, unethical employers, I cannot actually regret taking the job — because without that position, I would not know Lina.
  • Similarly, I am grateful I was raised LDS, because that’s where I met John, who is the most amazing, generous, compassionate, and intelligent partner anyone could dream of. If it weren’t for the LDS Singles Ward, I do not think our paths would have crossed. So I’m grateful to the LDS church for providing the setting that allowed me to meet my husband. The LDS church is also where I met Brienne the first time, and where the seed our friendship blossomed from began.
  • I am grateful I lost my faith first, because my experience put me in a place where I could support and comfort Brienne when she called me, shocked and in pain from the multitude of lies she had built her life on.
  • I am grateful that my friendships with Lina and Brienne led me to Lina’s home on Thanksgiving Day, where I stood by a table laden with delicious home-made food and discuss the nuances of showing gratitude with my dearest friends.

Yet, although I am grateful for the decisions I’ve made and the relationships I have cultivated, I still struggle with the the dangerous perpetuation of the myths surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday and the cultural misrepresentation, cultural approbation and erasure of genocide which are endemic to the holiday. I dislike perpetuating such myths, even passively, and I dislike the religious overtones the holiday is steeped in, and (honestly) I don’t even really like turkey. It’s gross.

I do like that it’s one of John’s paid holidays, which is extremely rare for a retail employee. I do like the idea of setting special time aside to focus on on your loved ones — a role holidays have typically filled.

I feel like too often, we all get so caught up in decrying the disgusting commercialization and corporate takeover of holidays that we forget most people actually do spend the holidays with people they care about, and the trappings are just that — trappings. The people, the relationships, are what really matter.

I mean, yeah, we should all show affection and love on a daily basis, and in an ideal world we would. But in the real world, we rely on each other to understand the unspoken, and sometimes expressed affection can slip through the cracks of communication and scheduling.

So I feel like holidays and birthdays and anniversaries are this great, socially-condoned excuse to set time aside and focus on our loved ones; our friends and family. Since realizing I am an atheist, I have found the true meaning of these holidays was hidden in plain sight all along — it’s not the religious or the secular trappings, it’s the people you’re spending them with (or the people you want to be spending them with).

Anywho, we did give thanks of a sort at Lina’s dinner. After I asked if we would be giving any sort of thanks, and got some good-natured ribbing from the boys in response, Brienne and Lina volunteered some things they’re grateful for, followed by John and a few of the kids. I feel a little foolish and childish for saying anything, but also happy — dare I say grateful — that I have such lovely friends.


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