There is a tradition in the southern United States that if one must work on a holiday such as Thanksgiving, take care of a sick loved one, pull a graveyard shift at a factory, or anything else that keeps one from attending the family holiday feast, then a member of the family will dutifully go up and down the sides of the still heavily laden dinner table and pile food high on a plate. If this plate is of the Chinet reinforced paper type, doubled for even more strength and carrying power, so much the better. Said plate is then dutifully covered with aluminum foil, or tin foil as we used to call it, and and delivered to the poor soul who was not present at the table. The love that was felt at the table by all those there is transferred in a tangible way to the absent member.
I asked a patient about her upcoming holiday plans the other day, as part of my routine survey of what a patient’s day-to-day life is like. She was a lady who had battled psychosis and mood disturbance on and off for years and was finally stable over the last six months or more. She was sleeping pretty well, eating okay, keeping her place clean and ever administering her own medications from a seven day pill minder (a huge leap forward and sign of improved independence for her).
“So, any plans for next week, for Thanksgiving?”
“No, not really.”
“Do you have family around this area, anybody you’ll spend some time with on that day?”
“No, nobody lives in South Carolina.”
“So how will you spend the day?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I’ll watch some TV, maybe take a walk. Eat something. I don’t know.”
How sad, I thought to myself. My immediate and extended families have always been big on getting together, having the turkey, enjoying cranberries, making stuffing and getting stuffed ourselves, and then eating desserts that none of us really need but all of us love. It is a given, a tradition that we anticipate. Like all holidays and birthdays in my family, the day morphs into a season, at least a week of joyful anticipation, planning, buying of goodies and then celebrating the day itself.
This holiday, Thanksgiving, usually makes us consciously count our blessings, give thanks for the many experiences and things and people in our lives, and see how lucky and fortunate we really are. If we pause long enough, we can see that we have more than enough to sustain us, more than enough to entertain us, and more than enough to live lives that are full and rich. It is very easy to fall back on that embarrassment of riches, to take it for granted, to see it as something that will always be here and that takes no work on our part to maintain. We do that at our peril.
This holiday season, I would invite you to close your eyes, breathe in and out deeply for a few minutes, and take a few moments, or a few hours if you like, and contemplate your blessings, your gifts, your assets. Think about the people in your lives. Think about the material things that give you joy (yes, it’s okay to do that, just for now). Think about your education, your job, your friendships, your loves, and your supports. Think about how good you feel knowing that you are loved, cherished and appreciated.
Then open your eyes, take a few more minutes, and pay attention to what lies just outside your protective bubble of goodwill. There is a single mother of two just around the corner from you at the office who makes ends meet and raises those children on a fraction of the income you enjoy. There is a person you work with who has the reputation for being mean and obnoxious, but who may simply be lonely and isolated. There are children who will not have turkey for Thanksgiving, much less toys for Christmas. If we open our eyes, there are needs everywhere in the world, not just far away in lands that we’ve never heard of, but sitting two doors down, driving past us on the street, and sitting next to us at the movies or in church.
I challenge you to fix a plate.
Pile it high with food, toys, money, offers of tangible work and assistance, gift certificates for something frivolous and fun. Top it off with words of encouragement and praise for a job well done. Garnish it with the love that you know you feel from others this holiday season.
One more thing about my family’s holiday traditions from my boyhood. At my grandmother’s house on the farm, off to the side of the dining room, on the near wall just to the right as you entered from the front hallway, there was a deep freezer. One of the freestanding big ones. On top of that freezer was usually some kind of cloth, and on top of that were so many desserts that a young boy could not even believe his luck at the sight. Pecan pies, sugar cookies, red velvet cakes, caramel cakes, pound cakes. Oh, my.
It would often take fixing an extra plate to make sure the recipient had more dessert than he could eat, in addition to the first plate of turkey, pan dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy.
My life, with all its ups and downs and troubles and things that make me sad and angry and confused, is full. I have a feast set before me. I have a big freezer piled high with desserts just off to the side. I have more than I could ever deserve, need, or use. My hunch is that your life is much the same. Even with our present-day troubles, we are immeasurably blessed.
Fix a plate.
Fix two plates, one for the sweet desserts of life that you can share.
Cover it securely with tin foil, get out of your comfort zone, and enrich someone’s holiday.
Happy Thanksgiving season, ya’ll.