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Happy Thanksgiving!

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I’m alone today, the first time I’ve ever been alone on Thanksgiving.

For decades, the Northern California branch of the family made our way down to Malibu, to eat and be with the Southern California members, plus whoever happened to be visiting from other parts of the country or world. Sometimes cousin Loretta would fly in from New Jersey; sometimes Rebecca and Jesse would fly in from Hong Kong; sometimes cousin Alan would make it here from his base in South Carolina, or my niece Janel and her family from their home in West Seattle. At times, we’d have at least twenty people, which meant my cousin Ellen, our hostess at her home in the Malibu hills, had her hands full preparing a massive feast with all the trimmings.

But over the years, our numbers diminished. People died. Those who didn’t die succumbed to the ravages of age, which makes traveling difficult. Families moved away, raised kids, and began their own Thanksgiving traditions; they didn’t have to go to Ellen’s anymore. And now, here we are, Thanksgiving 2019, and, as I said, I’m alone for the first time on turkey day.

But not lonely. “Alone” doesn’t automatically translate into “lonely.”

There’s a meme in the media that says people who are alone on Thanksgiving or Christmas are especially to be pitied. It’s said that being alone on these family-oriented holidays is a horrible fate, that those of us who are destined to be alone must pine away in our solitude, depressed and, in some cases, suicidal. To such suggestions I can only say: Bah, humbug.

I see the advantages of not having to participate in a huge Thanksgiving bacchanal. It’s certainly healthier: I won’t have to stuff my body with thousands of calories and hundreds of grams of fat. I don’t have to drive 400 miles one-way, and—this being rainy season in California—let me tell you there’s no joy in negotiating the 101 Freeway in a drenching gale. I like most of my relatives, but the truth is—can we talk?—that three days of forced cohabitation can result in bruised feelings, with old spats resurfacing and new frustrations arising.

There are practical difficulties to sharing the holidays with our families. I’m an early-morning person; most of my family aren’t. I’m an early-to-bed person; my family stays up late, watching T.V. and talking. The noise keeps me awake and is irritating. It’s not personal, but anyone who’s ever tried to drift off to sleep while loud noise is seeping into the bedroom knows the feeling. You bury your head under the pillows, but the blare still permeates your brain. And don’t even get me started on shared bathrooms!

So I’m chill with being alone. I get to do all the comforting, bland things I enjoy in my dotage: cuddle with Gus, watch some good T.V., write, plan for tonight’s dinner alone, shop. As I write these words at 8:30 a.m., I’m thinking of taking BART into San Francisco—only three stops away. Do a little Christmas shopping, grab lunch someplace (probably sushi), check out the store windows around Union Square—alone. Gus is fine for six or seven hours without a walk; he’ll be glad to see me when I get home, and vice versa.

So feel not sorry for me! Our culture, I think, puts too much emphasis on connecting, on social activity that can be frenzied, on parties and activities. In insisting that the busy life is the only one worth living, we forget the obvious: that we were born alone and will die alone (no matter how many others surround us at that moment). Being alone is, in fact, a blessing: time to retreat and retrench, to gather stock, to let the nerves relax and enjoy the feeling of Just.Being. Imagine that: Just be. You don’t have to do. You don’t have to talk, or amuse anyone, or be amused. You don’t have to do anything, just be, the way your soul just is, undistracted and undivided.

Am I grateful? Yes, but no more today than on any other day. I don’t have to set aside a day a year to remind myself that I’m healthy, able to support myself, and reasonably active at the age of 73. I have a roof over my head, the companionship of my dog, a few close friends to confide in, and a wider range of acquaintances whose company I enjoy, but from whom I can part ways when and if their company grows tedious. I have a comfortable life—not an affluent one by any means, but one that gives me enjoyment and peace. That’s something to be grateful for.

If you’re reading these words on this Thanksgiving Day, I extend to you the peace of the season, and wish you a happy, safe holiday.

  1. Santé et Hallelujah.

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