November Reflections: On Gratitude

I’ve always counted Thanksgiving as one of my favorite holidays, but I didn’t fully appreciate how much I treasure its familiar rituals—gathering in the company of loved ones to stuff ourselves with delicious seasonal foods—until last year. As Joni Mitchell famously sang in “Big Yellow Taxi”: Don’t it always seem to go / that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone

Last November, like most people I know, I had a Sad Thanksgiving. With Covid-19 raging across the country and around the world, Michael and I cooked a quiet meal in our apartment. Then we propped a laptop on the dinner table, logged onto Zoom, and tried our best to pretend that the loved ones who showed up in little boxes on screen were actually sitting at the table with us. Needless to say, it wasn’t the same. 

This holiday season, public health experts have given the greenlight for fully vaccinated people to get together safely in-person. I’m overjoyed for the chance to sit around a table with my whole family again, eating lefse — a traditional Norwegian potato bread — and Jell-O salad — a traditional Midwestern dish that is definitely not salad.  And I’m filled with gratitude: for my loved ones who I’ve missed so much; for the scientists and public health workers who’ve made it safer for us to come together again; for the medical teams who’ve risked their own lives to save others; for the frontline workers who’ve showed up to their jobs and kept our cities and towns running even during the scariest times in recent memory.

Part of gratitude means reckoning with the magnitude of what we’ve lost. As I write this, more than 770,000 Americans and 5 million people worldwide have died from Covid-19, figures that seemed absolutely unimaginable back in March 2020, or even at this time last year. Far more have suffered through the virus, and some continue to struggle with its long-term effects. Many people have lost loved ones, jobs, and relationships that couldn’t withstand the ongoing stress and worry. All of us have lost time. 

The pandemic has changed our lives in some ways we can already see and other ways we won’t fully understand for years. How will we rebuild from here? What new values, priorities, and traditions will emerge from this unprecedented age? 

Going forward, I don’t want to limit my musings on gratitude, reunions with loved ones, and appetite for huge communal meals to a single Thursday in November. I want to make space for hearty shared meals and festivity with my people all year round. What new traditions will you and yours dream up? 

Happy holidays, and be well,