What is the right way to give thanks in a pandemic? There are the obvious things to be thankful for: our health, our jobs, a warm house, plenty of food, each other. And there are the obvious ways not to do it: gathering in groups with those outside your household; not wearing your mask; letting our guard down because we’re all so tired. But how to navigate the season of gatherings otherwise? How to conjure the spirit without the physical presence of our loved ones?
I see friends and acquaintances adjusting, adapting, foregoing traditions, cancelling trips: skipping the turkey, or ordering a Thanksgiving meal rather than cooking; outdoor meet-ups with parents or Zoom togetherness. Not living close to extended family, our family of four is used to small gatherings; sometimes our parents could fly out, sometimes they couldn’t. Some years we had friends over; some years we didn’t. So, we will certainly make do with just us this year.
Part of giving thanks is giving to others, sharing one’s good fortune, extending one’s table. That, too, is harder or at least feels more complicated this year. First, there is so much need. I donate to a gofundme for restaurant staff; I give to a friend’s effort to buy meals for a homeless shelter over multiple nights; our PTAs are collecting to give directly to families in need; my workplace is sponsoring families through community organizations; there are various toy and food drives; and these are just a handful of the local efforts in a relatively well-off town. $25 here, $50 there –it hardly feels like enough, and the requests keep coming. Second, the efforts to support our local economy seem to pull against good public health practice. A Facebook group to support local restaurants popped up back when they were first restricted to takeout and delivery only, and while we order at least one or two dinners a week, we’ve chosen not to eat at the restaurants themselves, outdoor seating or no, even when they were allowed to open for in-person dining. It seemed every week there was an announcement from a restaurant or grocery store that an employee had tested positive. Temporary closures, deep cleaning, and then back to the grind of trying to stay afloat. More recently, a local woman spearheaded another social media effort where volunteers “adopt a business” and commit to shopping there weekly, spreading the word, and connecting with the owners. Over 150 businesses have now been adopted. It is a wonderful, impressive endeavor, and I’m sure many businesses appreciate it. The many empty storefronts downtown remind us of the dire alternative of not supporting. But part of me is also wary of the idea of encouraging everyone to be out and about shopping. Is it a good idea to be getting manicures or facials right now, even if everyone is being careful? It all seems an impossible calculus.
We are all just trying to stay afloat, hanging on until the rescue boats arrive– a vaccine, a real federal plan, another relief package. In the meantime, on this rainy day, the errands on my list are to drop off some winter clothing donations, pick up GOTV postcards for the GA run-offs, and pick up tamales made by a local caterer. These are things to do for me as much as for anybody else. Giving thanks is also a way of coping. Practicing my gratitudes, as I call it, is a way to stave off bitterness and helplessness. “I am grateful for you all,” I write to my friends in emails after our zoom meetings. I mean it and it helps to say it.