Thanksgiving has always been a lonely holiday to me. Most of the time when I was growing up, it was just me and my Mom for Thanksgiving dinner. (My brother and sister are both much older than me and had lives and families of their own.) I envied my friends who had big families on Thanksgiving because even when they complained about the house full of relatives that they disliked, you could tell they secretly enjoyed the chaos and energy of the day. (I'm sure if you asked their parents, you would have heard a totally different side of that story.)
Anyway, Mom and I tried to do the normal Thanksgiving thing, but it seemed insane/obscene to cook twelve items, including a turkey, for two people. As a result, I had lots of years with a cooked turkey breast and some random side dishes. Not awful, by any stretch, but not what society tells you that Thanksgiving looks like.
When I got married the first time, it was just the two of us, then after we had our son, it was the three of us. Cozy, I guess you would call it, but still not the festive, joyous day of feasting and turkey-induced sleeping on the couch.
What started as the nadir of my Thanksgiving life ended up being among the best. My ex-wife and I had separated four months earlier, and it was around that time that it became apparent we weren't getting back together. I saw my son every other weekend, but I didn't have him for Thanksgiving week, which meant spending the day by myself. For a moment or two, I toyed with the idea of a TV dinner like the one pictured above, largely because it felt like the ironic, cynical, single guy thing to do. Instead, I ate dinner at a really nice restaurant, one of the few open on Thanksgiving.
Entering the restaurant felt weird. When I checked in with the hostess for my reservation, she asked if anyone else was coming and I swear to you, for a half moment, I wanted to say someone was parking the car. Instead, I said nope in a tone more petulant than the situation merited.
Have you ever seen the Steve Martin movie, The Lonely Guy? In one scene, Martin goes to a restaurant by himself, and as soon as he tells the maitre d he's eating alone, a spotlight comes out of nowhere and follows him as he is led to his table amidst the suddenly quiet diners.
I felt like that. Completely in my head, I grant you, like so many of the stories we tell ourselves about our lives. But after a few beers, the experience was actually cathartic. The food was great, I talked with the waiter at length about football, the beer was also great, and I even wrote some at the table.
Above all, I didn't die from it. In fact, I left the restaurant feeling better than when I entered because I had made it. Instead of hiding inside my apartment, I had taken action that helped me survive that day, and the experience would give me courage for the many other marginally-painful days that would follow.
The experience also taught me that although we do spend a lot of our lives alone, it's important to value the time we spend with others. The universe offers no guarantees of any sort about how or when people come and go from your life. Someone a lot smarter than me once told me that "People come into your life for a reason, a season, or for your entire life. You just never know which one at the time."
If you are spending today with family, friends, or people you can barely tolerate, take a moment and be truly thankful for their presence because who knows what next Thanksgiving will look like. Enjoy their moments in your life.
Unless they eat the last of the cranberry sauce. Then you have my permission to stab them with your fork.