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Sharon Randall: When so much is different, Thanksgiving is, too

By Sharon Randall

Different.

That’s a word I’ve been saying a lot lately. Maybe you’ve been saying it, too. I’ve said it so often it’s starting to sound as if it doesn’t mean different, just more of the same.

Here are some examples:

My husband and I have always loved going out to dinner at a favorite restaurant to celebrate a birthday or an anniversary or just the fact that we’re hungry.

But in the past eight months of the pandemic lockdown (why does it feel more like eight years?) we eat most every meal at home. We cook. We eat. We clean up the mess. Then we talk about what we want to eat next.

Sometimes, we get take-out so we don’t have to cook. But it’s cold when we get it home. And after we reheat it and eat it, we still have to clean up the mess.

Recently, when I saw my doctor for a routine checkup, I never really saw him at all. He wore a mask and a face shield. I could barely see his eyes. He asked all the usual questions and I tried my best to answer, mumbling through my mask.

But I had no idea if he was smiling in approval or debating whether to confine me in an institution. For all I know, my real doctor was on a golf course, paying his out-of-work cousin to check my vitals. Not that my doctor would ever do that. I’m just saying it was different.

Eight months ago, I had friends. We’d go out to lunch, or sit in our kitchens talking and laughing, baring our souls, sharing our hearts, solving all the problems of the world. Or at least, catching up on gossip.

Not any more. Yes, I know there’s a thing called a phone that lets you to talk without risking what my mother called “swapping spit.” And there are even things like FaceTime and Houseparty and Zoom that let you see each other while you talk. They’re fine for keeping in touch “virtually,” if you can’t be in the same room together.

But I like being in the same room with people I love. Being apart from them is … different.

Fortunately, thanks to FaceTime, I still get to read to my grandchildren. Or I get to listen as they read to me. Either way, it’s something we love doing together. I used to hold them in my lap and nuzzle their necks while they turned the pages in “Goodnight Moon” and played with a lock of my hair.

Now we read together long distance on computers, not physically close, but still finding comfort in the sweet familiarity of each other’s voices.

Social distancing and wearing a mask are sacrifices I’m willing to make to keep myself and those around me safe. I have faithfully practiced both for the longest eight months of my life.

But I never dreamed I’d have to practice them on my favorite holiday. I love Christmas, but it’s complicated. Thanksgiving is simple, just family, friends and food, being thankful and being together. It’s perfect. Especially if I don’t have to cook.

Last Thanksgiving, my daughter and her husband hosted a feast for 20 of our family and friends. All I had to do was show up, eat and talk.

I wish you could’ve seen us.

This year, with the pandemic taking thousands of lives and causing so much suffering, Thanksgiving will be different.

Our family will still celebrate, but not all together. We’ll have Thanksgiving dinner in our own homes in separate households.

I will set two tables: A small one in our dining room for my husband and me; and a big one in my heart for all our loved ones, living or long departed, who’ll be with us in spirit, and never forgotten.

I’ll set a place for you at the big table. Maybe you’ll set one for me. We won’t join hands, but we can join hearts to give thanks for all our many blessings and pray that soon things will be … different.

Here’s wishing us all a safe and blessed Thanksgiving.

Sharon Randall is the author of “The World and Then Some.” She can be reached at www.sharonrandall.com.

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