Over the past seven years I have had four English Thanksgivings and two Malawian Thanksgivings. Six wonderfully different celebrations. From brining a turkey in the bath tub of our student apartment at Exeter University, to hosting my very first Thanksgiving as a married woman, to being hosted by my English grandparents who embraced this American holiday because they loved me. Then there was the year we had something like chicken fajitas in Malawi, and the year we managed to buy a big chunk of pig which we roasted on an open fire.
But what about the seventh Thanksgiving? I was home in the States one November five years ago, the year that Andy and I were engaged and I was living at home with Mom and Dad in Connecticut planning our wedding. That was the year that we got a phone call in the early hours of the morning (those calls that make your stomach turn before you even pick up the phone) that our dear cousins Shea and Luke and their friends had been in a serious car accident. Shea’s boyfriend had not survived. Everyone else had walked away from the accident, but Shea was in critical condition and the doctors weren’t sure she was going to make it. When the call came, Mom and Dad were in West Virginia, so it was just Sharon and me together. We prayed, we cried and then we prayed some more. And so it continued over the following days. My dad flew to Georgia to be with his sister, my Aunt, and her family as they kept vigil by Shea’s bed in the ICU.
We couldn’t even think about having a normal Thanksgiving that year. Dad was in Georgia and Mom, Sharon, and I were a collective emotional wreck. At the time I was working at a transitional living facility for people with HIV/AIDS and drug addiction. There were just eight residents who all lived in the area, yet no one had anywhere to go. No family or friends to host them at their table. So we loaded up the car and took turkey and all the trimmings to the house. It was a wonderful Thanksgiving in its own way, to bring warmth and good food to a place where there would have been none. But our minds were elsewhere. Maybe we said a prayer over the food, maybe we didn’t. We had done so much praying that week, I can’t recall. But I do remember that my gratefulness for my family was heightened in the presence of those who were not welcome with their family either due to the stigma of their illness or the bridges they had burned because of their addiction.
This year, I am grateful to be home, around the table with my whole family for the first time in seven years having what I hope will be a “normal” Thanksgiving (which is a wonderfully relative concept in our family!). But I’m even more grateful that it’s been five years since the morning that phone rang, and my cousin Shea is happy and healthy.