“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It's not.”
-Dr. Suess, The Lorax

Sunday, November 18, 2012

I’m Missing Thanksgiving at Home, and I’m Okay With That

It’s the week of Thanksgiving.  And it doesn’t feel any different than last week.  Or the week before.  It’s mid-November and I’m still sweating every day as if it was summertime.  Because we live on a tropical Caribbean island.  In my neighborhood, there has been no mention of turkey or cranberry sauce.  Well, there are a few turkeys at the house down the road, but no one has mentioned them in conversations that I’ve been involved with.  No one is decorating their front door with fall foliage, because everything is still green.  I haven’t seen any caricatures of Indians and pilgrims.  Probably because the settlement of Haiti involved the genocide of the indigenous people and there wasn’t a big happy celebratory meal that would make a love mural to reenact by children in costume.  Then the slaves were shipped in.  Oppression is a real downer.
So, um, it just doesn’t quite feel like Thanksgiving to us.  But that’s okay. 
I have spent some time reflecting this weekend, trying to sort out how I feel about this Thanksgiving thing while living here in Haiti.  Last week I was having some mixed feelings, but I’m pleased to report that I’ve gotten a grip on it.
On my food shelf is a little stash of Thanksgiving-ish food that I have been saving for this upcoming Thursday.  A box of Stovetop stuffing (because I do not have the time or energy to make stuffing from scratch), a can of sweet potatoes (the fresh sweet potatoes here don’t taste like American sweet potatoes), and two cans of cranberry sauce (found a buy-one-get-one-free sale at the store last month).  No turkey, though we do have some canned turkey meat that is pretty good. 
I thought it was important.  Now, I realize, it’s just food.  Let me explain.
Thanksgiving – what is its purpose?  To take time to be thankful.  To recognize how we’ve been blessed and to appreciate those blessings.  To spend time with family.  To cook lots of really yummy food and eat until we might just pop.
Wait.  What?  The thankful part – yes.  The family part – yes.  The eating part – well…. That’s just what it ends up being.  The heritage part of the holiday is basically just for nostalgia and a theme for d├ęcor, or so it seems.  When it comes right down to it, our focus is just on the food.  The menu planning.  The days beforehand of cooking.  The table setting.  The cleanup. 
What about the thankfulness part?  Well, that’s covered in the prayer we have before we devour the food.  It is a lot of fun to catch up with all those cousins while we eat, though!  And there are always opportunities to chat while waiting in line at the desert table.  So, that covers it, right?  As pathetic as it sounds, that’s what Thanksgiving usually ends up being for me, no matter how much I aspire to make it something special and pure. 
So this week I will spend Thanksgiving in Haiti.  No one will be celebrating Thanksgiving here.  Thursday is Clinic day.  There will be work to do.  Tasks to complete.  Life as usual. 
But wait!  We ought to take time to be thankful.  Prepare a traditional holiday meal.  Gather around the table and make it something special.   
Here’s the kicker – every single day living here in Haiti I AM thankful.  I can’t help but to be.  We have food, more than we need.  We have shelter, and it’s spacious and comfortable.  We have good health, and medicine when we are sick.  We have clean drinking water, and indoor plumbing (thank you, Jesus!).  We have electricity.  Electricity!  That enables us to have a refrigerator and fans, unlike the majority of our neighbors.  We have everything we need and more.  LOTS more. 
Living here, EVERY SINGLE DAY is filled with thankfulness.  If you open your eyes and see, really see the people around you, it is absolutely impossible to not be thankful for all the blessings in your life.  The depravity and suffering is abundant.  People here are just surviving.  Surviving.  Some families don’t have as many disadvantages as others, but life here is hard.  Gritty, simple, and hard. 
So I don’t really need a special day set aside to be thankful this year.  I’ve been relentlessly hit in the gut with realization of my blessings for five straight months.
I am thankful.       
Family – now that’s a kicker.  We are here, they are not.  It sucks.  But I’m not bummed too much because I am soooo excited to be home in just three weeks.  Just three weeks!  Holy cannoli!  That’s nothing! 
Food – yes, I’ll fix the food.  We have to eat a meal anyway Thursday evening, so why not fix dressing with turkey, some sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce?  It will be tasty and make us feel like we are somewhat connected to the holiday.  But food here, well, it’s a sensitive subject for me.  I spend time with kids every day that are recovering from starvation.  Not, “Mom, I’m starving,” but real, hardcore, heartbreaking STARVATION. 
I don’t know that right now I could even look at a Thanksgiving meal spread without crying.  The abundance.  The excess.  The memory of the babies I have held that are now dead, simply because of lack of food. 
Wow, I just went there.  Sorry about that.  It just spilled out.  Now I’ll lighten the mood a bit.            
When I miss something from home, or really wish I had a ______ , God has given me a fantastic coping mechanism.  He urged me to savor all the stuff I really love before we left home.  He showed me the scenery, the feel of the air, the smell of the grass, the sound of the laughter of people I love. 
He gave me so many details and knit them in my heart and mind. 
The coldness of my favorite milkshake.  The fizz of Dr. Pepper.  The serenity of my favorite coffee shop.  The comfort of the seat in my Honda Pilot, driving down smooth roads so familiar that I could navigate them with my eyes closed.  My niece’s voice saying, “I love you, Allison!”  My Mom’s warm hug that still makes me feel safe and loved.
So missing out on a fantastic Thanksgiving meal isn’t going to be too hard.  I can close my eyes and remember the taste of my mother-in-laws incredible coconut cake, the heavenly smell of my mom’s green bean casserole.  I can imagine the smiles and many hugs that would take place on this upcoming Thursday. 
Just three weeks.  I don’t care about the cake or the casserole, just save me some hugs.    
For that I am very, VERY thankful.