Wednesday, November 21, 2007

tradition

I've spent more Thanksgivings at work than not since I've been an adult. First there were turkeys in domestic violence shelters in college, then ham in group homes for troubled girls in graduate school. Then came turkey and ham at the shelters, both families and adults at different times over the years.

I often used this to my advantage, a reason I couldn't fly home for the holiday that no one could really argue with. And it allowed me to gracefully bow out of what was often an uncomfortable gathering. So tradition doesn't call for me because I've never really listened, something that while perhaps my destiny has always left me feeling a bit numb but in an okay sort of way. As I've grown older I've felt more conflicted about this sort of selfishness and escape. But it was for a good cause, not only did I actually have to work most years but Thanksgiving is a time to give back while giving thanks and I like you have been so richly blessed.

But this sort of thinking is fueled by society. For some reason we can let folks go hungry all year but we find it inconscionable that everyone's belly isn't full on Thanksgiving. That no matter what the circumstances are, the community generally rallies around feeding the poor tomorrow. While grateful, always grateful I am also frustrated because folks are hungry in January and certainly in March. Turkey tastes just as good to a hungry person mid-December and maybe even better in May. But tomorrow everyone who needs it will most likely be full.

And so it goes, this strange river. And tomorrow I'll make my own turkey and give M a day she'll remember with our small family and some friends and at some point we'll probably head over to work just to check in, to see how things are going. This year not because I have to but because it's the one thing that IS my tradition and something to pass along to my child hopefully in an eventual broader context about suffering and community response, about hunger and hope. Because while I resent that we only catch people's attention twice a year I can't help falling for it every single time, the extra food and good cheer and surprise visits, the people who come by to drop off food or to volunteer their time because it makes me feel hopeful that something will stick, that more of these folks will see it as a longer commitment, that they'll want to do more all year long, and that somehow something will magically shift. And I am buoyed by that glimmer of hope just as I am moved by the folks who will wait for it too, whose waiting is cold and lonely and hungry and yet hopeful, still.

27 comments:

Julie Pippert said...

Oh so much of this speaks to me. I have, however, always fallen in line with tradition.

My endeavors to gently break in one small way meet resistance and hurt confusion.

And as for hunger is a problem year round?

I am perverse; I prefer to donate in the summer for just this reason (among other times of year).

Julie
Using My Words

painted maypole said...

tomorrow MQ and I are serving dinner at a shelter for homeless women and children that we've been supporting (helping to reopen after Katrina) for over a year now - donating money and art supplies and clothes and furniture and bedding. We are excited to go and be a part of it tomorrow, to see where our gifts have gone, to see the people who are using them. Who NEED them. But you are right... it is rather fashionable this time of year to do such a thing. We need to be doing it all year long.

blooming desertpea said...

It's the same thing with Christmas or even more with Mother's day - it makes me angry that people think of other people only once a year but on the brighter side, if it weren't for these traditional holidays, there might be people who go forgotten altogher - so, my motto is, once a year is better than never!

crazymumma said...

and christmas is soon upon us and I feel my grinchyness and my cynicism starting to rise again.

Giving, like feeling should be year round.

Now go enjoy yourself some extra something with your tribe, then go out and show M again through your actions what you believe and how you choose to live.

She is part of the bigger change.

we_be_toys said...

You are so right - and an inspiration to me - thank you.

marshamama said...

Found you via Krista and loved your post. I am bowing to tradition, but it will be to help hold my family together after losing my brother last June. Your post, however, did inspire me to try to find time in my week to go back to my passion of working with people struggling to make it on their own in my community. So, thank you. Thank you for gently pushing me forward.

Family Adventure said...

What you say is so true - and the same goes for the Christmas holidays, when we also suddenly get into the spirit of generosity and giving. How to capture it and make it last all year round?

I try to be cognizant of this, and give mostly on January, when I know that funds are tight everywhere.

QT said...

I, too, coordinate some office giving in the January-February arena just to combat this, but it is tough, as you point out. People are loathe to cooperate and it is like pulling teeth.

Whenever the BF and I pick up meat for our freezer, all the old gets donated. It is still good, and I would probably use it up eventually, but that gets me donating in the spring-summer.

I am happy that you get to spend the holidays with your little family and some friends. I hope M is recovering from the blankie tragedy.

kiki said...

I feel more obligated now as a parent to follow some semblance of traditional by making our own. My girl has such a strong sense of family because ours is so small, that she is keenly aware of the rituals and celebrations that occur every year.

I looked around to find a place where A and I could go help tomorrow, feeding people was her specific request and my girl is too young (at least for the shelters I found nearby).

I'm not sure who it goes to, but during November and December, I always pull those tabs for the food bank, increasing the dollar amount as each holiday nears. I know it's not much, but it makes me feel like I'm helping from my comfortable suburban oasis.

Happy Thanksgiving honey, maybe our small families of three can celebrate some year - you're always welcome. xo

Lawyer Mama said...

Yes, I wish the concern was year round. We do our food/shelter fundraising drive in the Spring for that reason.

And I love your tradition. It's teaching so much to your daughter.

Amy Y said...

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family...
Maybe this year will be different?

Janet said...

Your tradition is one we can all aspire to, in this increasingly self-absorbed world.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

flutter said...

I know we don't like to say nice things about this administration, but..
shortly after 9-11 he gave a speech and called for every American who is of able mind and body to volunteer 100 hours a year to helping their fellow man. It touched me. I thought, loving food as I do, what more appropriate place to do that than in a food bank or soup kitchen? So that is what the Boy and I do, every year as our way of saying thanks to those who don't have what we do.

It seems slight in light of what you do.

Wayfarer Scientista said...

You know, I was wondering the other day what your take on this would be. It seems suddenly everybody is asking for food donations for the holidays: the supermarket, the country radio station, the workplace. And I felt the same way, 'what about the rest of the year?'. How is it that we can only afford to be generous during holidays? And can I say that it bugs me that donations are solicited hand-in-hand with purchasing? As in, if you purchase X then we will donate this fraction to cause G.

Maddy said...

Ii used to volunteer before all the children arrived and before the green card. Now the opportunities are a bit more limited, so I more or less stick to volunteering at the school. Maybe in the next stage of life.
Happy Thanksgiving

meno said...

A much better tradition than the annual Ode to Wretched Excess.

Suz said...

As usual, your take on things comes as a bit of a revelation to me. I really value your perspective, and yes, it makes sense as always.

Kyla said...

That hope. It buoys you along and then it drifts away. But you can't resist grabbing hold of it every time, even when you know the outcome.

You make a difference every day, jen. I am so proud to know you.

The Expatriate Chef said...

I am a year round person on donating. There are coat drives in the winter, clothing and furniture to give any time I clean house, gift buying for holidays, art supplies for kids in the hospital, food drives in holiday season ... there is always something and some way, and so many, too many, who need it all. Still, I could do more and want to. Thank you for the reminder!

The Expatriate Chef said...

Ah, and holidays are a real screwy time of year for my family. It helps me to focus on my kiddo and new traditions. Sort of a clean slate and a way to enjoy it all the way it should be celebrated. Kids are a wonderful gift.

thailandchani said...

Two candles can be the beginning of brilliant light. Keep the faith...

Jozet at Halushki said...

I was just listening to NPRs ongoing rant on consumerism. They recently followed dumpster divers in NYC, and the amount of good food thrown away every day by businesses in the US is sinful.

The amount of food thrown away in most homes is equally sinful.

And here comes Christmas and more buying, buying, buying when we in the US have enough in our own homes for heaven on earth five times over, and enough in our pocketbooks to feed the entire world. If we wanted.

But Black Friday Cometh.

Emily R said...

That has always struck me as odd, too. If you are hunfry on Thursday, you'll probably get hungry again on Friday. That's kinda how hungry works.

Ruth Dynamite said...

Word.

nomotherearth said...

I kind of wish volunteering was viewed like showering - obviously not mandatory, but a really good idea to do on a regular basis.

Ally said...

Well-said, in all respects, Jen.

ms chica said...

Finally, a tradition that isn't so far removed from the source, that it is still worth continuing.