When I’m eyeing the seats as the dishes incrementally fill the table, I know which chairs are claimed, not by the ones with a drink or any reshuffled napkin, but by the creased white paper with a name outside and a feast of words inside. On Christmas, we unwrap gifts; on Thanksgiving, we unwrap our hearts and unfold our minds by sharing what we’re thankful for.
Each place setting has a letter-size paper, printed with 1997 Microsoft clip art and marked with hand-written notes about what we appreciate. (Download your own here. Thanks, Dad!) At some point in my adolescence, I realized that the text box Dad designed with five lines didn’t limit me to expressing five points of gratitude. Thanksgiving’s unique trait is that our gratitude doesn’t have to fit in any box, and there’s no way to wrap it, pretty nor ugly. Gratitude persists. The focused tradition of reflecting, writing, then reading what we’re thankful for brings meaning to this time of year, not just at the dinner table.
The table has transformed over the years, sometimes longer, sometimes louder, and sometimes especially tasty. As if we’re on the next round of musical chairs, there’s no seat for me this year, and that’s okay. I’m staying abroad, and I’ll be making my own Thanksgiving feast, like I did with friends in Denmark in 2011.
I regularly answer questions like “how are you doing?” “are you settling in okay?” and “how is life in Germany?” I’m content, and – frankly – shocked with myself at the smoothness of my transition. I sprinted through an insane cornucopia of adventures with friends on my way out of Boston, jumped onto a plane, and landed feet first in Berlin. Certainly, after a honeymoon, there should be a phase of disbelief, confusion, and maybe the slightest regret. I miss Boston, I love my friends and family at home, and I would love to be celebrating Thanksgiving in Maine. I’m also entirely content with where I am now. I had to pinch myself today, because I haven’t felt homesick yet. This is real life, and it’s great.
I’ve long subscribed to my idea that “missing is a happy feeling, because it’s nice to have things and people to miss.” So, this year, I’m thankful to be missing the Thanksgiving that I’m accustomed to with my family. I have many happy memories of laughter and flavor and warmth, and memories cannot be missed. To my family, I do miss you, and I’m happy knowing that we can unwrap and share our gratitude without being together physically. Presents don’t require presence, at least on this holiday.