This is the time of year I get misty-eyed. Now that October is in our rear-view mirror, I’ve got Thanksgiving on my mind, and with that comes memories. As a child, Thanksgiving was my absolute favorite holiday with a house full of happy noise.
I remember using a balloon to play volleyball over my parents’ bed with cousins and sibs. Grabbing orange juice ice cubes with a maraschino cherry in the middle (intended for mixed drinks) and placing pitted-olives on our fingertips was another favorite.
Decades later, my husband and I have become Thanksgiving hosts, and along the way, we’ve developed our own traditions. We typically sit 20 around the table and start by singing, “’Tis a gift to be simple,” followed by, “We gather together.”
We take turns sharing what we are thankful for. My husband provides a kernel of knowledge about some eclectic yet interesting topic. One year we learned about Tecumseh, a celebrated Native American leader.
So now the problem: COVID and politics have made it hard for me to get into a “Thanksgiving State of Mind.” How will we “gather together” meaningfully but distanced, especially given our political divides even within families?
I have been working to find my gratitude, and it has finally come. It has three parts and goes like this:
Part One: History is on Our Side
As a nation, we have endured world wars, terrorism, economic meltdowns, crises of confidence, spiritual malaise, gaps of leadership — and that is only a partial list. I am old enough to remember the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.
I recall the turmoil of Viet Nam and still remember President Johnson saying, “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party.” Our history is checkered and complex, but we figure it out.
I am reading America, 1908 by Jim Rasenberger, and am struck by modern-day parallels.
In 1908, the nation was undergoing trauma and rapid change. It wasn’t analytics or the internet. It was the Model T creating new life experiences and the Wright brothers advancing the state of flying. We weathered a disputed World Series and a president who was considered a bully, “drunk on himself.”
Fiercely independent, Theodore Roosevelt followed his conscience and led with conviction.
He applied the Sherman Antitrust Act against JP Morgan. He also invited Booker T Washington to the White House — a first — that earned him being called a “Negrophile.” He was not loved by many, nor did he seem to care.
America 1908 reminded me that where we are is where we have been. 1908 was tough going and our nation’s confidence sagged. Maybe extreme dissension is an opportunity to emerge stronger. Maybe Thanksgiving is the perfect time to appreciate diversity of thought and being and affirm that history is on our side.
Part Two: Some New Society Norms Bode Well
Amidst significant loss, COVID-19 has also created positive transformations within our society. In particular, changes in medicine and education have been dramatic and foretell a different model going forward.
Telehealth had been long-touted as a way to expand access and deliver cost-effective medical care. Out of necessity, this has become our new reality.
McKinsey cites that within the U.S., the use of telehealth grew from 11 percent in 2019 to 46 percent in 2020 as measured in visits. My friends who are medical providers say they are learning new skills as they improve their practice of virtual medicine.
Education is also evolving. Online education had been trending up and just might become the normative choice going forward. In 2016, one in six students studied exclusively online (National Center for Education Statistics).
Care to predict the numbers in 2025? While online learning is no panacea and has many drawbacks, the reshaped landscape offers choice and flexibility. Words like “hybrid,” “pods,” and “autodidacts” will be part of the new vocabulary.
In both medicine and education, access and affordability should both increase. We won’t get it entirely right, at first, but we will improve the offerings over time.
Part Three: Our Children Have Become the Grownups in the Room
It’s every parent’s wish to see their children mature to “grownup” status. Nothing has helped me see this better than COVID. Under my children’s guidance, my husband and I understood when and how we could get haircuts.
The children did our grocery shopping until it was deemed safe enough for me to take back the reins. They even started a cousins’ texting group to help guide their chaperoning parents.
Was it annoying sometimes? Definitely. Did I want to say that I had years of experience on them and could exercise my own judgment? Totally. Was it a wonderful revelation that they were now assuming responsibility for our care? Absolutely.
To quote a beloved president, “The torch has passed to a new generation.”
Yes, we are restless, with far too much political and spiritual turmoil. And yet, with effort and perspective, I believe we can find our gratitude.
I think I’ve found mine just in time.