As I do every morning, I just rode my bike around the gorgeous city reservoir a block from my house, with my little Toto-like terrier running joyously alongside me—honestly, you should see how he bounds through the grass. I wave at the regular walkers and dogwalkers, even if we don’t know each others’ names. Today, Thanksgiving, Fresh Pond was overrun by visitors, out to burn off some calories and enjoy the brilliant blue New England day before they sit down with families of blood or of choice to eat, argue, joke, pray, or whatever their particular configuration might consider appropriate for the day. Since this is Cambridge, the colors were mostly but not only white, from deep WASP to darker brown: prep school blonds; ruddy Irish; argumentative Israelis; Pakistanis or Indians; Chinese; a very sweet and quiet Tibetan refugee couple who run a local restaurant and whose tiny Tibetan terrier swaggers like he owns the world; an extremely tall and fit couple speaking French; an astounding athletic young white couple with their bounding Great Dane puppy; a transracial (white/African-American) family from up the street whose boy goes to the same school as mine; and myriad Cambridge immigrants, nerds from other parts of the country who immigrated to live around others who think far too much for our own good. Of course, many sullen twenty-somethings walked around staring at the ground, looking as if they dreaded the conversations at the coming feast. But for the most part, a sense of pleasure filled the air as leaves drifted across the path, dogs happily sniffed around, and the sun shone on us all alike.
It all made me think about why I love Thanksgiving, even more than I love the Fourth of July, which (to the surprise of my anti-militarist friends) I adore. At Thanksgiving, Americans take a minute to celebrate the fact that somehow, all of us made it here. Those who were already here earlier sit down and feast with those who’ve just arrived, whether invited or not. We may not all be under the same roof, but we are eating and celebrating life together. It was hard getting here to the promised land, the land where if you work hard you can survive and thrive, where if you’re in need, someone will generously bring corn to your table and help you celebrate your hard-won harvest, saying thank you for yet another day to whichever God might apply for the spot (a category in which I include the god of science and rational thought and the Buddhist non-god of simply enjoying the present moment). We’re a land of immigrants and old-timers who find a way to work together to make our shared world better—even if we will go to war with each other, politically speaking, the very next day. Every group that arrives takes a day to learn the native custom of cooking and eating the national bird; every group adds its own spices and flavors, offering us all new tastes, new visions of the good. Any kind of family counts: the families with whom you grew up, the families you’ve acquired along the way.
I’ve long disliked the iconic Norman Rockwell painting of the day, with its all-white table that assumes a white-bread background that I don’t share—but since I’ve been spending time visiting my in-laws up in the tiny white-church-spire town in Maine that my wife comes from, I’ve learned to love even that tableau.
Happy Thanksgiving. I’m grateful for you, readers, for listening when I go off on my rants. I’m hopelessly grateful for my family, and for the fact that I can celebrate our commitment in law, in life, and in print without fear. I’m grateful for the wide range of ideas of the good life embodied by all my neighbors, whether proximate or digital. I’m grateful we’re all here together, making the idea of America, the promised land, into a place where all of us can feast.