Digging deep to give thanks


November 2, 2020

How will we celebrate gratitude in a year so steeped in disappointment, fear and grief?

by Michelle Icard

This has been a uniquely horrible year. Many of us lost loved ones to illness, income to business closures, hope to political divisiveness and friendships to social media. We lost the little things we look forward to each year, like vacations, football games and birthday parties. And we lost some things we can never replace: being present at a birth or a funeral, millions of acres to wildfires, and innocent lives to incomprehensible violence. The loss list this year is broad. And seemingly endless. And depressing.  

Thanksgiving is asking an awful lot of us right now. How will we celebrate gratitude in a year so steeped in disappointment, fear and grief?

The answer may reveal itself through the food on our Thanksgiving table. I don’t just mean eating an abundance of rich, salty, sweet, sleep-inducing food. (This is already firmly established as a reliable pandemic coping tool.) I’m thinking about the types of food we prepare for Thanksgiving, and it occurs to me they’re exceedingly difficult and uncooperative. We really have made it a tradition to make it hard on ourselves on this holiday.

Take the pumpkin, for example. I know we make our pies from canned pumpkin now, but consider the origin. Imagine, for a moment, someone plunking an enormous orange gourd in front of you and asking you to turn it into dessert. After nearly severing your hand off trying to cut it open, you must weed through the slimy guts, carve out the meat, bake, and mash with sugar, cream and cinnamon. Then you roll out a crust, fill it, bake that … it’s exhausting.  

The pumpkin hides its potential well. In fact, most of our favorite Thanksgiving delicacies make you work hard to love them: an enormous bird that requires brining, basting and baking all day long. Sacks of potatoes that need peeling, washing, boiling and whipping. Bitter Brussels sprouts, stale cubed bread and tart cranberries that we ply into unrecognizable versions of themselves with butter, salt, sugar and more butter. 

Every item on the menu is practically begging not to be considered for consumption by being so ridiculously hard to work with. Each ingredient gives us no choice but to wrestle it into something else. 

This feels like a pretty good metaphor for 2020 itself. 

Finding gratitude during the pandemic is like digging deep into that pumpkin or cooking a large meal over a hot stove. It’s not easy in the moment, but when we’ve pushed through this year, I hope we will be able to reflect on some of the positives. The good parts of this year may be tough to find, deeply buried under hardship or bitterness, but we can uncover things to be thankful for if we‘re willing to coax them out of unlikely places. 

Our celebrations this year won’t look like they usually do, but whether you’re traveling or staying home, keeping it small or moving the feast outside to socially distanced folding tables, cooking a turkey or ordering Chinese food, enjoy your day however it unfolds. If nothing else, we can be thankful for this: There’s only one more month until we roll over to 2021. SP

Michelle Icard is an author in Charlotte. Her latest book, Fourteen Talks by Age Fourteen: The Essential Conversations You Need to Have With Your Kids Before They Start High School, is available for pre-order on Amazon. When not in a pandemic, Michelle travels around the country speaking to parents about raising tweens and teens. Learn more about her work at MichelleIcard.com.

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