Thursday, November 28, 2013

To Avinly on Her 1st Thanksgiving

Today, Avinly, was your first Thanksgiving. And while you and your brothers you are already tucked away in bed, your cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles back home haven't even taken the turkey out of the oven. Like the very first Thanksgiving's participants, you experienced your thankful holiday's debut far, far away from home. 

Unlike the Pilgrims, however, at least we have a post office, the handwriting of your loved ones bringing your mama much comfort.

For the first time in my 28 years, I spent Thanksgiving away from my family. Your brothers, accustomed to long hours playing with cousins while their mothers prep in the kitchen, wondered why this Thanksgiving would be different than the others. Why couldn't we just go back home? I realize that for at least several more years, it will be normal for you to say hi to your grandparents over the phone on the fourth Thursday in November instead of leaning in for a hug.

And, aided by my 7-miler this morning around the barbed-wired base perimeter, my heart simultaneously cracks and heals, the little fissures making room for new experiences, new friendships, new memories, even as the pain hits.

Thankfully, the setting for your first Thanksgiving was not a lonely hotel room. Instead, it was a rambling farmhouse in the country, beautifully decorated and filled with people, kids, dogs and wonderful smells coming from the kitchen. Though we have only been in this country for three weeks, we scored a dinner invitation from some awesome hosts. (Who we met, by the way, through friends of friends of friends via Facebook. The world is small, though still so very large.).

We came at 1 p.m. as strangers. Seven hours later, we left as friends. You feasted on sweet potatoes, rolls, bits of turkey, and -- for the first time -- cranberry sauce with your buddy Weston. All were hits.

During dinner, I talked with your grandparents back home, still pajama-clad at 8 a.m. As my mom swept the phone around the room, with calls of "Happy Thanksgiving, Crystal!" coming from various family members, I so desperately wanted to be there. I wanted to discuss the strategy for the upcoming Black Friday shopping with the women. I wanted to play the annual guessing game of "Who is thankful for what?" (P.S. If the card says Josh Turner, it could be either me or my mom.). I wanted catch up with relatives, to fall asleep on the couch watching White Christmas, to revel in the tryptophan grogginess before tromping off to bed.

I wanted what I've always had, in other words. Because it's pretty amazing.

Blurry photo courtesy of Jude. I miss my Canon!
But then I started thinking about the first Thanksgiving. About the fact that there were no traditions, because it had never been done before. The Pilgrims and Native Americans weren't long-standing friends and relatives. Everything and everyone was new. Both sides just knew they were thankful to be alive, to be together, to be living in a beautiful, life-sustaining country, to be a part of something bigger than themselves, to be children of a God who created and loved them dearly.

Kind of like us today. The faces and the location weren't what we know. But the laughter, friendship, beauty and love flowing from each attendant was familiar. Because we're humans, and we never outgrow the need for connection, no matter where we are, what job we have or who we are around.

So yes, I miss our family. I'm sad that your grandmas and grandpas don't get to hold you on your first Thanksgiving, to gush over your adorable pumpkin dress, to laugh at the face you made when your tongue first touched the cranberry sauce. I'm bummed that the boys don't get to be with their cousins, and I'm nostalgic for what my family is missing -- for my holiday comfort zone.

But in moving here, I have been solidly shoved out of that zone. And in falling from that plane, I am forced to remember what that first Thanksgiving stood for.

It wasn't about familiarity, comfort or normalcy. It was about discovering that happiness isn't exclusive to your old life, finding joy in the midst of your new circumstances and realizing that one can always find reasons to give thanks no matter who surrounds your table.

After all, you have a table. And though you have someone to miss, you also have new faces to meet -- two things that so many the world over don't.

And so today, as I gaze at my babies' sleeping forms, as I hold my husband in my arms, as I hum "White Christmas," I pray and thank God for the day. I praise him for side-by-side hurt and happiness, the comfort of yesterday and the promise of tomorrow, the generosity of new friends and longings of old.

I give thanks on your first day of gratitude, knowing that together, we drink deeply of the true spirit of that first Thanksgiving day so long ago.