Today I wonder about my family, as I did last year. Last year was my first Thanksgiving away from home and I remember feeling sad, really truly sad about being in Brazil and not with them. I remember feeling nostalgic and feeling a longing for years ago when we were altogether in upstate New York, tucked away in a big house by a river, making food and music. I remember the sadness I felt last year, during our school’s lunchtime celebration, during the moment of silence we took to think of the things we were thankful for, remembering the people we were missing.
This morning I woke up and I saw Dennis. He was curled and sleeping like always. In my sleepiness as I turned on the shower, I saw through the bathroom window that it was truly the most beautiful day I could have asked for–the brightest blue, the softest cool breeze. It was, indeed, a day like any other here in Brazil, and I gave Thanksgiving nothing more than a passing thought.
It wasn’t until I was sitting at my desk at school that I felt a sharpness in the back of my throat, a feeling that forced me to swallow hard because it had caught me so off-guard. At first I couldn’t quite identify what was happening, what was going through my subconscious to make me look up from my book and stare aimlessly around my classroom, not really watching my students read, not really reading my own book. I realized it was Thanksgiving today and my mind turned backwards softly, like one of those worn flip books all turned up on the edges that rest near the cash registers of bookstores, the kind people pick up absentmindedly to keep their fingers busy while they’re waiting for the tallying of their charges. My mind did this and, just as quickly as the pages change from one to the next and make the drawing in the book seem to change and move, I passed through the hundred still photos of my own Thanksgivings with my family and I saw us growing and laughing, making stuffings and strumming guitars. I saw us dancing together in wide living rooms with tall ceilings. I saw a football thrown across the November crystal blue sky and I saw it leave one cousin’s hand and end up in another’s. I saw our shoes collected by the front door of the big house, I heard my uncle’s music on the CD player float in over us kids’ quiet talking. I saw us running through the hallways and stomping up one set of stairs and down another. I saw us huddled together in secret rooms and lounging on couches, bellies full, and remembering the meal we’d just eaten.
I want my family to know that I remember them and I remember us all together on this day, our hearts and arms expanding farther and wider as each of us walked through those doors of the Fishcreek. I want my family to know that this day, every year, my thoughts turn to them and to those years and I cradle those memories like a newborn, wrapped in soft fleece, bundled thick and warm. I am thankful for them–for my family and for the memories of us together–and they both gave me comfort today when I had to choke down an emotion that had surprised me, that could have overwhelmed me. I know you are together today, and whether or not you are together like I remember from years ago, it gives me such warmth to think of you all that way, altogether, singing songs. I would like to walk through the door and join you. So I will do so in my mind’s eye.
Last year I was sad. I remember turning my thoughts back to my family, to the years of Thanksgivings we shared together, and feeling homesick, wanting to be with them. I remember feeling like my heart was squeezing, like it was wringing out emotions. But today, it’s not the same. The time here has changed things, and changed me. Today I feel my heart expand, like it did when I’d greet my family at the Fishcreek.
And so in the few moments today while my mind turned backwards to the years when we celebrated this day together, I smiled. I turned back to my book. I continued reading. Because I think that’s how thanksgiving works–to remember, even just for one moment, even thousands of miles apart, that once upon a time you were connected to something beautiful, and not even the passage of a million years or the moving of a million miles away could ever, ever make you forget. And, like the images in a flipbook change from one shape to another, the sadness I felt this time last year has changed into something else: a true thanksgiving for what came before and a true thanksgiving for what is now.