I am fourteen years and thousands of miles away from my last nuclear family Thanksgiving. I could never have comprehended the massive toll my affair, divorce, subsequent marriage, and renunciation of Christianity would have on my relationships—from thousands to a handful.
And those precious few are mostly younger and still in the frenetic pace of the first half of life—they have their own set of friends and responsibilities. And so we are mostly alone. This truth becomes particularly apparent during holidays. Alone.
For the past few years, we have traveled at Christmas and Thanksgiving to distract ourselves from the conspicuous absence of friends and family. But this year, we stayed home (busily preparing for our move to Spain) and spent the day alone.
Gratefully, we could share a priceless hour with our precious friend John Palm who was in town for the holiday, celebrating a belated Día de los Muertos at Gina’s Dad’s gravesite. We also noticed that most of our neighbors (except one young couple) were home alone.
As we spent the day cooking a big meal for the two of us, joking and reminiscing about Thanksgiving memories, Gina said, “This is really fun!” And as the day slipped by, it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable days of our life together. Why?
We talked about it (as we tend to do) during an after-dinner nightcap. Why was this Thanksgiving (in Gina’s words) the best Thanksgiving we have spent together? Here are a few thoughts.
—No expectations. There was no pressure from family to be the way they expected us to be. I read an article yesterday that, much like high school reunions, we tend to return to our past role when we lived with family. Yesterday, we were able to be genuinely ourselves.
—No patriotism, or lack thereof.
—No memories of past trauma.
—Cooking new dishes.
—Being truly present and together.
—Family is NOT everything.
—Mutual love and life without shame and judgment are everything.
—Realizing this could be our last Thanksgiving celebration in America.
The biggest takeaway was when I recounted the story of T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) to Gina. His father, Sir Thomas Chapman, fell in love and had an affair with a family servant. Because he was an Irish nobleman, he was stripped of his title, estate, considerable wealth, friends, and community—however, he was indeed in love. He did not care that he was not “allowed” to marry a commoner. The two lovers (much like Gina and I) fled their hometown and country and built a life together. When asked decades later if it was worth all the loss, Mr. Lawrence said absolutely.
Fourteen years later, Gina and I feel the same way. If we had the situation to relive, we would undoubtedly have handled things differently. But one cannot repeat the past. And the love, camaraderie, joy, and peace we share today are worth it all. Therefore, paradoxically, we are thankful we can share the joys of loneliness.