The day after Thanksgiving, I sat & cried with my husband about how much I hate Thanksgiving. This year, I find myself emotionally gutted over Drumpf’s politics of course. Who isn’t? Even bigger than that my heart remained heavy at the treatment of the Standing Rock protesters. On Thanksgiving. With frigid water. In frigid temperatures. Why can’t the United States keep it’s treaties with Native Americans? Why are we incapable of treating Native Americans fairly? Why God why? My heart hurts for them. They fight to protect sacred land & get nearly killed for doing so.
So. There’s that. Sigh.
Without fail, every year I tend to dread Thanksgiving & Christmas. Has anyone else noticed this incredible expectation attached to these days? YOU AND YOUR BIG, BEAUTIFUL FAMILY MUST ALL BE HAPPY! THANKFUL! FULL! *Insert eye-roll emoji* This expectation was something I read loud & clear long before social media gave us clues about not only what we should feel on these holidays but what it should look like as well. The feast of unending jealous longing and useless comparisons as grand as the turkey spread on the table.
The failed expectations of life with a happy family is simplified version of my issues, and really only the tip of the iceberg. I imagine all of us feel that way to such an extent, right? We’re all trying to be thankful -despite perhaps many deep layers of pain- not only because it’s almost the only socially acceptable attitude on Thanksgiving, but because what kind of uncouth heretic can’t find a way to express gratitude one day of the year, no less a day supposedly set aside to cultivate thankfulness?
The pain for me is always about belonging. But isn’t it always? Aren’t we always asking?
Where do I belong?
Do I belong here?
Do I fit here?
Do they want me here?
Am I home here?
If not here, then where?
Where do I belong?
For most of us from broken homes, the endless question of belonging are heightened during the holidays.
I don’t remember the year, nor my age, but I was fairly young when I started feeling the oppressive weight of depression on Thanksgiving. A large part was the absence of my Dad and my inability to connect with his family. He left for prison when I was 11 and the subsequent hole gutted me emotionally on many occasions of course, but holidays held a peculiar & specific sting. I could have never articulated that as a kid, hell I barely knew how to engage emotional pain or decipher what made the sadness linger like such a distracting nuisance as I ate my apple pie.
The other confusing dynamic was the slow nag of being racially & culturally different from everyone else no matter whose house I was in. Growing up biracial meant when I was with my Ma’s side, it was all white folks all the time. When I was with my Dad’s side, it was all black folks, all the time. Before my Dad’s imprisonment, my access to him and his family was limited but the finality of his lock-up I understood to mean certain death of those relationships. There was no going back there. And on Thanksgiving, I longed for him and his family which felt forever lost to me and for me.
Throughout the years, Thanksgiving felt like displacement.
In my early adulthood, my Ma still made a big meal and invited myself, siblings & grand kids over. When she suffered severely from the effects of a mental condition she lost her house -my childhood home- but also the last bit of normalcy our core family would ever experience together. From there on out, Thanksgiving location/hosting was up in the air. I tried to host one time. Once. I could try to explain why that experience stressed me the junk out but I’ll leave it at this: I’m no natural hostess. At all.
For many Thanksgiving’s, my ex & I bounced around from his parents house, my sisters house, my best friends house, the homes of mutual co-workers or anyone who’d have us. As welcome as we were, year-after-year the longing for my “normal” family, for a familiar place, for racial and cultural belonging or understanding…all of it alluded me. The thought of it sat like an elephant on my chest with so much dead weight. And on Thanksgiving, the elephant moves around, gets cozy, snuggles up. I can’t breathe.
Post divorce, an additional painful layer joined the club. Alternating Thanksgiving with my two precious boys meant spending a major holiday without even seeing them, let along building annual traditions. This at first seems impossible. It becomes manageable of course, but this new dynamic is what threw me over the top in the final death blow of utterly hating Thanksgiving.
I can’t get out of my feelings, I can’t ‘thank away’ my grief, I can’t overlook the oppressive sense of loss, I can’t deny the brokenness of my entire family, I can’t whisk away the feelings that I don’t belong, I can’t ignore the jealousy towards ‘put together’ families splashed across timelines and I can’t lay aside fears that whomever I’m with on Thanksgiving won’t also one day toss me aside like yesterdays trash.
I hate Thanksgiving. It takes 2 days, sometimes 3 to regain emotional equilibrium.
I’ll never hermit myself. I’ll always go, always participate. Always look, long & lunge for hope. I’ll always pray for peace. Always cultivate gratitude. But it will likely remain a day with pain.
And that’s okay.