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The right time for Thanksgiving

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What’s becoming clearer and clearer to me is that the most sacred moments, the ones in which I feel God’s presence most profoundly, when I feel the goodness of the world most arrestingly, take place at the table….Food is a language of care, the thing we do when traditional language fails us — Shuana Niequist, Bread and Wine

I was at the stove this afternoon with Katie, my 14-year-old. She asked me when I learned to cook. I thought about it for a while and told her honestly that I couldn’t remember a time when I didn’t cook. 

I love to create meals. I love the pen and paper planning, the thinking it all through and consulting of cookbooks that is my once-a-week ritual before heading to the grocery store. I love the familiar aisles and the happy surprises of seasonal offerings. Thumping squash, sniffing melons, pressing gently against the skin of avocados — the gathering of food is a sensory experience to which I bring my full attention. There is a certain satisfaction that comes with a well-stocked kitchen after a thoughtful grocery run.

Then there is the cooking — the chopping and sautéing and tasting as I go. Always, there is the deviation from the recipe, sometimes veering so far from the original that the author wouldn’t recognize the dish. And then serving.

Gathered around a table, we know the rich experience of sharing taste and texture, comfort and company, nurturing and nourishment. Meals are where life happens. Many of us communicate our deepest desire to connect and to sustain to the people we love through the medium of food.

As the holiday season approaches and the weather turns cool enough to inspire comfort cooking and eating, I think ahead to when my very large table will be filled to overflowing, people nestled in with elbows touching. In my imagination, it all has the rosy glow of cheerful anticipation. But I’ve cooked and baked for enough of these large family gatherings to know that it won’t be all idyllic deliciousness.

Just as there will be mountains of dishes after the feast, so will there be pain at the table. This year, for my family, Thanksgiving will look nothing like it has for the last 25 years. In the space of a few long months, my husband’s father, mother and brother have died. His uncle, who has made the trip from Michigan for as long as he can remember, cannot travel. Our eldest son and his wife and two little girls moved across the country and can’t get home. Different. It will all be different. And it will hurt.

If the news of the day is any indication, families across the country are anticipating that Thanksgiving tables will host contentious political conversations and that wounds, even in families, will run deep. It has even been suggested that it’s “too soon” for Thanksgiving.

It’s not. It’s precisely the right time. It’s the right time to sit together — families broken in grief, friends challenged by differences, neighbors frightened by each other — and share a meal and share a burden and give thanks. 

Gratitude is the awareness and the profound sense of appreciation for the blessings bestowed and it’s the beginning of returning kindnesses to another. Some years, we have to dig deeper to find and acknowledge the blessings. This year, for many people, is one of those times.

Gathering at a table, breaking bread together, is exactly the right place to begin to heal the hurting family. And healing the hurting family is the first step in healing a hurting community, a hurting country. This year, maybe more than ever, it’s exactly the right time to sit and eat and give thanks together.

Foss, whose website is elizabethfoss.com, is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016