Posted on Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Being away from home is really hard during this time of the year. Though Christmas is drawing ever closer, and my flight to JFK is just around the corner, I'm thinking a lot about home.

Tonight, after my older sister cooks dinner for the family, my mother will fall asleep happy to have two of her girls home, the sound of their homecoming set to the constant hum of the washing machine and dryer. My sisters will fall asleep in their own rooms, maybe fight over who gets to sleep with the cuddly cat. They'll sleep in later than they expected to, and wake up to the sound of music already turned up in the kitchen, the sound of the long meal prep already beginning. When they come downstairs, Mum will already be in her apron and setting things in motion, and Dad will be near the bar, finalizing his choice of pre-dinner cocktails.

The smell of roast turkey will fill the house slowly but surely, and as the snow falls outside (this year!) , the fire will  roar inside. Two gray cats - one very very fat and one very very thin - will lounge around the living room, lazily sauntering into the kitchen when they smell the turkey being brought from the oven. Dinner will be early and long, but before all else it will be delicious. Mum won't sit down to the table until everything is just right in the kitchen, and as my sisters will chorus
"Mum come ON!", Dad might turn up the lights because he "can't see his food". 

After dinner, my sisters will do the dishes (Megan will claim I'M WASHING! or  I'M DRYING! whichever she deems easiest after careful surveillance) and they'll listen to Mum's iPod, harmonizing until one of them messes it up and they erupt into laughter and swat each other with tea towels. Then they'll pile into the basement, all four of them, into the cool leather couches and in front of the projector, ready to fall asleep in front of whatever movie they've agreed on.

Suffice it to say, I'll be missing lots. I'll be missing my family, our cozy house, the lazy fat cat, the skinny mean cat... But I won't necessarily be missing out.

It's an interesting thing to live outside of the States during Thanksgiving. This is my third year away from home, and I think it's been as good as any I've had. Last Thursday, I invited a few girls over to my place for an early celebration. In the afternoon my roommate and I decorated our apartment (and got distracted by making and drinking mulled wine), and I spent hours in the kitchen washing and chopping and roasting. The girls came, we had bubbly and foie gras, roast chicken and all the trimmings, lots of Bordeaux, pumpkin spice cake. We ate until we couldn't eat anymore, and as the wine bottles emptied and the candles dripped low, we finally got to my favorite part of any Thanksgiving meal: Go Around The Table And Say What You're Thankful For.

Sometimes this little ritual can feel awkward or forced or trite, but during this particular Thanksgiving, it was none of those. Instead, it was warm and touching in the least cheesy of ways. Hearing what my friends were grateful for last Thursday evening really gave me pause for thought, reminded me to add certain forgotten things to my own little list. This  year's Thanksgiving that I was lucky enough to share with these friends was really one of my favorites (and not just because I finally found the perfect candles for the table). I feel like this year, I really understood the whole thing in a new way. It's not about the family or particular friends, it's not about the food being perfect or the wine going perfectly with it. It's about the little moments, like the one that I enjoyed watching my friends earnestly list the things they were thankful for. These little snapshots, these little glimpses of warmth and humanity and love, these are what Thanksgiving is really about.

When we first moved to the States all those years ago, there were several things that we didn't really know about American culture. One of these was, unsurprisingly, Thanksgiving. Virtually unheard of outside of the US, my little immigrant family had no idea what we were supposed to be doing. Thinking we were doing it right, one year, we set off in our Sunday best to a small bistro in Greenwich Village, where we were the sole family in a sea of gay couples, and where my only real memory is eating a delicious crêpe for dessert. Over the years, though, we got the hang of the whole Thanksgiving thing. We sometimes gathered as a family of five, but we often gathered as a family of more. Among my parents' expat friends in the States, there were always other families, far from their own extended families, happy to share the meal. As we came to the Thanksgiving table year after year, the real point of Thanksgiving became clearer and clearer. The idea of "family" became less rigid, as we realized that the friends we'd made in the Sates were like our own extended family, a home away from home.

Ultimately, it's become pretty clear to me that it really doesn't matter where you are. It doesn't matter who you're with, it doesn't even matter if you're by yourself. The meals I shared with my family were no more or less special than meals I've shared here with friends, or in the States with various expats that also landed in Yardley. Although I'll be missing every moment of our Thanksgiving, and though my heart aches when I think about how much I'd love to be there, none of that is really the point of Thanksgiving, is it? 

The point is to take a minute and feel a little bit of love, a little bit of gratitude, for the little things in life. It's a time to step back, to pause, to reflect, and to be thankful. And guess what? I've got a lot to be thankful for, this year more than ever. I'm living in my favorite city in the world, supported by family and friends from thousands of miles away. I've got a beautiful apartment, I'm studying something that really interests me, and I feel like I'm on my way towards Figuring It All Out. I'm so grateful to be here, and I feel so lucky to have so many wonderful people in my life (Thank you for being so wonderful, people in my life!).

From me, to you, on this Wednesday night in Paris, happy happy Thanksgiving, my friends. I hope you've got a lot to be thankful for this year. xx

1 Comment


StephenC said...

Really nice reflection Neen.
See you soon.