If there has ever been a year for an authentic Thanksgiving, 2020 is that year.
Maybe not if your definition of Thanksgiving involves crowding around a table with relatives as everyone bumps elbows as you all reach for the mashed potatoes or fight to get the choice pieces of turkey or try to pass the gravy without dripping on the tablecloth.
And maybe not if your idea of the holiday includes joining hordes of frantic shoppers, spending money you can’t afford to buy “deals and bargains” nobody needs.
But if Thanksgiving is really and truly and genuinely a day of giving thanks … this is the year.
Even if we cannot be with our families and friends on Nov. 26, this year has definitely taught us to appreciate — be thankful for — the special people who mean the most to us.
If nothing had happened this year — if there had been no pandemic, no social distancing, no isolations or quarantines — most of us would have gathered next week with pretty much the same people we always get together with … even if we weren’t necessarily thrilled about that.
After all, that might have meant dinner at grandma’s house, even though you know she lets her cats lick the plates before she puts them in the dishwasher, and you just know that at some point in the day, grandpa would grumble like he always does about “kids today” who don’t have the work ethic, patriotism or manners that his generation exemplified.
You could only hope not to be seated anywhere near your obnoxious uncle whose politics drive you crazy, or your deadbeat brother who never contributes anything to the meal but is the first to load up a hefty “to go” plate when it’s all over.
Not to mention your sister, who ignores her kids as they run through the house like wild banshees, or your brother-in-law, who parks himself in the best chair in front of the football game on television and ignores everyone.
There’s your aunt, who flutters around under the guise of being helpful but actually just manages to get in the way of everything as she fusses over the arrangement of desserts on the side table and opens the oven door so many times to check on the status of the rolls that it’s a wonder they ever get done at all.
Your nephew barely grunts an acknowledgment to anyone as he stares at his phone all day, while in the meantime, your niece glares around the room as if daring anyone to comment on her bright blue hair, new tattoo or conspicuous facial piercings.
One cousin is talking — loudly and to nobody in particular — about her latest medical situation, while another is complaining — also loudly — about her boss and coworkers and job in general, while another is asking — equally loudly — if anyone knows where the plunger is, and maybe everyone needs to stay out of the upstairs bathroom right now.
The soundtrack of the day will include a crying baby, a barking dog, a slamming door, an awkward silence and of course a prayer …
… and that’s the Thanksgiving many of us have always known and would have taken for granted yet another year.
Until this year.
This year, 2020, the year we can’t or won’t or at least know we shouldn’t do what we’ve always done.
This is the year we might find ourselves eating a cold sandwich and a bag of chips while home alone, but it’s also the year we find ourselves missing, and loving, and appreciating our family far more than we ever did before. We will finally be able to smile at their eccentricities, overlook their annoyances, forgive their failures.
In our hearts, we know that next year — and there really will be a next year — we will love our grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, nieces and nephews just as they are … and we will gently ease the cat aside as we volunteer to wash the dishes.
Because thanks to the year without a Thanksgiving, we have finally learned what thankfulness is all about.