Thanksgiving Day began with a 6 hour bumpy bus ride from Iguazu Falls to a remote jungle area near Posadas. The bus was so crowded that most people just crammed into the narrow foot path between seats while the driver would bring the vehicle to a screeching halt at random intervals in the middle of the road to let people off and bring more people on. I felt nauseated the whole time and wondered if I would make it to our destination without puking all over the floor.
When my traveling companions and I finally stepped off the bus, we were greeted with a burst of humidity quickly followed by an incessant swarm of mosquitos and other flying insects.
So fearful was I of contracting some mosquito-borne illness (because of my flare ups in living like a hypochondriac), that I probably swatted at the air dozens of times in front of aforementioned traveling companions until nightfall.
Since this was during the time before Air BNB and our constant streaming internet access, we somehow managed to find a hostel in the jungle to stay at. In some amazing sort of windfall, near this remote jungle hostel there was also a decent restaurant. I don't think that at the time I fully appreciated how lucky we were, but I do now.
Our Thanksgiving dinner was a mild feast of truly American food. Chicken burgers, french fries, local Argentinean beer, and brownie sundaes for dessert. For three young twenty-something American women who were all overheated-tired, bus-travel tired, and travel-travel tired, this was pretty much the best thing we could have hoped for.
I know that night, sitting in the jungle restaurant, we acknowledged and probably marveled at where we were -- South America -- and when we were -- on a much celebrated (and also derided) American holiday.
When our jungle adventure ended, new ones began in the Northwestern corner of Argentina, where salt flats expand for miles across rugged arid desert, but that is a story for another day.
Pizza at a mall with my parents followed by ice cream sandwiches. I wish I had more of a tale here, but it is probably sufficient enough to say that I was in my awkward teenage phase (hello, fourteen) where I felt horrible in my body and didn't like to smile in photos (ask my parents) and didn't appreciate my experiences like I (try to) now. On this trip, we visited many temples and shrines, including the famous Temple of the Golden Pavilion, traveled on a bus for what seemed like incredibly long stretches of time, and on Thanksgiving, the three of us found our way in a food court in a mall in Kyoto ordering a pizza.
2012 - 2015.
During this time, Thanksgiving was a day of service and work, literally. And I loved every minute of it. For four years, I helped coordinate a large fundraising event, a 5K walk/run. It generated lots of great buzz, a turnout that grew consistently to upwards of 4,000 participants by the time I left, and required the help of over 100 volunteers. All in all, it was one of the most rewarding experiences of any job I've had, as well as one of the most exciting. What could have ended up being the most stress-inducing experience - running an event - it instead became for me a source of inspiration and energy. The participants wanted to be there, the volunteers wanted to be there, and I wanted to be there, as did other staff members. When everyone is happy, it makes everything that much more special and enjoyable. I loved it, though I soon came to associate Thanksgiving with working followed by the inevitable post-event crash that had me in bed sleeping it all off for most of the weekend.
1984 - 2000
I can't remember much in the way of detail on every Thanksgiving during this decade except to say that I never gorged on food (still haven't) on this touted day of feasting and overeating, and I always ended up eating cold turkey. Literally.
It was always cold.
My plate would look thusly: a tiny portion of turkey, a small heap of mashed potatoes, a bread roll (okay, maybe two), and a piece of pie (okay, maybe two pieces of pie). And I always felt like I was missing out on something. I just didn't get Thanksgiving. I didn't understand the appeal of gravy or stuffing or even eating so much food. It never made sense to me. Also, these weren't foods I particularly enjoyed, so...again. I didn't get it.
After 2000 I was pretty much vegetarian or vegan for most Thanksgivings that would follow, so that changed things a little bit.
Thanksgiving has never been a special day for me. Certainly not in the sense that our mainstream culture has made it out to be. It, like Christmas or Easter or birthdays, like first days of school or other so-deemed "hallmark moments on our life timeline," have always been ones of external expectation and pressure and therefore have meant less to me than the random moments of laughter on the job or long conversations with friends, or that spontaneous gathering in March or the time the family all met up in San Diego or .... you get the idea. I have found the most special and meaningful times to be ones without the added "bring the pie," or "traffic was so bad because: holiday." I love celebrations, but feel that celebrating is often best served as needed, not once or twice a year with superficial symbolism.
Finally, my thoughts are with Standing Rock today and all native peoples who live on this land.
I think about the future of Thanksgiving as a symbolic day of thanks and feast.
Will it remain a source of gratitudes (or platitudes...) and stuffing turkeys? Of the oft-told history of Pilgrims and Indians that sorely needs rewriting?
Or will it become something else? A true recognition of the inequities that exist here, and most jarringly at present, with the water protectors and the armed guards? With the commitment and dedication of some to protect the natural resources that are here and for others to tear them apart for rabid consumption?
I don't have the answers, none of us do right now.
But we can do good work, we can donate, we can activate.
We can speak up.
And, we can celebrate as needed.