As long as I was a parish pastor, I knew one rule during the holidays: be aware that the holidays are difficult for a lot of people. While the rest of the world is reveling in the joys of the holiday season, many people in the congregation are lonely, grieving, or suffering in other ways.
I seriously wonder if the world is reveling in the joys of the holiday season. But that’s another matter.
Here’s MY particular problem: I’m divorced. The basic nature of my family has fundamentally changed. My former spouse and I co-parent wonderfully; there’s never been a problem there. But the sense of family we once had has changed forever. So the symptom I suffer from, as the world revels, is grief.
Last year we paid homage to the family that once was. She made the offer to come to DC with all the kids. We would share the meal together, take a walk up Capitol Hill, and then she would hop a Greyhound Bus back to Tennessee and I would continue on with the kids. It worked pretty well: especially the part where I got to choose the menu.
We had beef. Lots and lots of beautiful, slow-roasted, rosemary covered beef.
You see, I believe no one actually LIKES turkey. If America did like turkey, then we would eat it regularly. But we don’t. Turkeys are found in the grocery stores only before Thanksgiving and Christmas. There’s no tradition (that I know of) in which we have the Fourth of July Turkey, or that we cook up a big bird for the week at the beach. Sales of Stove Top Stuffing plummet except for holidays, and cranberries are not to be found anywhere.
The reason is simple: we, collective America, do not like turkey dinners with all the trimmins. Every rule has its exceptions, but I dare you to reasonably contest this one.
This would explain a lot of things, the sharp rise in alcohol sales prior to holidays being one. This phenomenon has been explained as being due to the inability of extended families to coexist in the same house for more than a couple of minutes. I disagree with that theory and blame it instead on America’s distaste of, and manufactured tolerance of, turkey.
So we had beef. And no one could stop me from serving it.
Divorce is a terrible thing. Don’t try it. It is pain, hurt, financial ruin, and a lifetime of awkwardness and conflict. Avoid it at all costs.
But if it must happen, I’m here to tell you that there are silver linings. Divorce is the growth opportunity of a lifetime. If you can afford a therapist, it’s a crucible in which you can uncover and finally address your demons. You can buy a motorcycle if you like. You can even search for and maybe find true love.
But the greatest silver lining is that you never again have to prepare, slice, and serve a turkey on the holidays. If divorce is the cake, freedom from turkey is the icing. And it’s appropriate to celebrate freedom on Thanksgiving, isn’t it?
Divorce is the bitch-slap in your face that following convention does not guarantee a happy life. Having the big house in the suburbs and driving the Toyota Sienna does not signify that you have arrived. Eating turkey, dressing, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and butternut squash with marshmallows artfully toasted on top will not provide satisfaction. And since no one really likes it, why spend all day preparing a meal everyone is only tolerating?
But alas, I still grieve. This year the kids are spending Thanksgiving with their mom, and I am staying in DC. I will miss them terribly, along with all the laughs and energy that is always found at the dinner table.
To celebrate the holiday, and to take advantage of the freedom of knowing that no degree of convention-following will secure a happy, trouble-free existence, Meg and I will be preparing a meal that I believe will make you want to leave your turkey dinner behind. It’s my way of remembering that there truly are silver linings.
Oh, and we are still having green bean casserole… because it’s good.