10 ways to connect and give thanks this year without spreading COVID
“I feel lonely” I hear too many friends and relatives say in anticipation of this holiday season.
I bet the Pilgrims would relate on that symbolic first Thanksgiving. They mourned the deceased who had fallen ill from pneumonia and scurvy. They also missed their long lost relatives back in the Old World. Meanwhile the native Americans were likely reminiscing over the days before the white men appeared, bringing a brutal epidemic that eventually killed an estimated 90% of America’s original inhabitants.
This holiday the world is sick.
The problem is, we aren’t just sick with COVID. Globally over 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression. We’re sick from our politics, our police brutality, our racism, our homelessness, our faithlessness, our refugees and our poor who suffer far more than the rest of us. We’re sick from our latest report of our planet’s demise. We’re sick from hearing opinions that upset us — opinions different from our own.
But Thanksgiving historically symbolizes a new way of coping with an apocalypse. Even if idealistic, the bountiful picture of a meal shared involves a stable surface in the midst of chaos. It offers a glimmer of hope, where alternative perspectives, cultures, skin colors and faiths might come together without screaming liar and fraud at each other, and without spreading a deadly virus.
Maybe Thanksgiving is a tremendous opportunity to end drunk Tweets, to stop the spread of COVID, to halt judgment, blame and conspiracy theories. Maybe we can be honest, humble, and truly thankful this week.
Here are some ideas for new ways to connect and give thanks without causing the demise of others:
- Invite friends and family to an online feast. It’s obvious, I know. But even if you’ve got Zoom fatigue, let me point out the benefits of a Zoom Feast. First, you don’t have to sit in the same physical space as that family member who drives you nuts yearly. You don’t have to cut your fingers peeling a hundred potatoes. And you don’t even have to eat turkey if you don’t like it. You can make macaroni and cheese instead, while sipping champagne by candlelight. You can eat your food right there in your own messy home and no one will even know that you’re not wearing your pants. Afterwards you won’t have a lot of dishes to do, and you can drink the remaining champagne if need be.
- Organize a creative canned food drive. The Pew Research Center reports that one in four adults have trouble paying their bills since the coronavirus outbreak. These people may need food and toiletries during these difficult times. Put a box out in front of your apartment or house with a big sign that says “GIVE”. Watch your neighbors passout. They aren’t used to seeing positive messaging, you see. After collecting the food, drop it at your local food bank and see if they need any help distributing the cans. Not sure who needs the food most and what exactly is needed? Here are some guidelines at Feed America. Or here’s a way to donate food online in Europe.
- Eliminate your food waste throughout the holidays and beyond. In the US 133 billion pounds of food are wasted annually, and in Europe, 88 million tons. How much perfectly good food went into your garbage can this week? And how much went into your stomach? (Don’t answer that.) Food waste depletes the environment’s resources and raises enormous ethical red flags. Just think of those pilgrims and Native Americans. They needed every kernel of corn! That was partly the point of the first meal. Make a plan to reduce your food waste by purchasing less food, eating smart, planning meals ahead, and donating overstocked items in your cabinet before they expire. Support farmers, restaurants and stores that donate excess food rather than dumping it.
- If you aren’t high-risk for COVID infection, volunteer preferably outdoors if possible at a local soup kitchen, and of course bring along your mask and gloves. Some soup kitchens even allow you to make your own soup and serve it. I’ll be doing this at a local refugee camp this week.
- Get creative about giving thanks. Who haven’t you thanked lately? Write postcards or letters to the mailman, the lady at the market, or that great teacher you haven’t reached out to this year. Leave notes for neighbors, but be sure they’re nice. They might smile more and so will you.
- Forgive. Harboring resentment makes people resent you. Resentful people all around you can sometimes make you want to stop showering and stay in bed. Forgiveness is hard, but it actually improves physical and mental health. What’s holding you apart from a person or group of people? Try judging less, since you hope people will look past all of the flaws you’re not hiding.
- Make a time capsule. If you have kids, this activity has great potential. My husband’s grandmother actually created time capsules with her adult kids. Decorate the time capsule with current newspapers and resist the impulse to hide yourself within it. What else will you put inside? Photos, weird masks, the pieces of toilet paper you hoarded… what else?
- Journal about this holiday. In my creative writing workshops, I encourage all levels of participants to write without self-criticism. This can be liberating, grounding and sometimes it can give you a space to write about that unfriendly person you’re glad you haven’t had to see since lockdown. You may also write about your favorite pie, the restaurants you miss, and the stylish outfits that have gathered dust and don’t fit you anymore.
- Offer help to your community. Ask to buy groceries for an elderly person after finding out what they like. No turkey? No problem. Bake cookies for somebody — how about a healthcare worker? Call the local homeless shelter or refugee center and ask what’s needed. If they hang-up on you because they think you’re really weird for wanting to help out — just remember, they’re depressed too.
- Allow someone else to give to you, too. Receiving kindness is an act of kindness. This year a refugee girl I know made me a birthday card and gave me a silver chain that held a pendant shaped like the earth. I knew she must have used most of her money earned picking trash to buy that necklace. I tried not to cry as I thanked her for it. Just yesterday she sent me a photo from the top of a mountain. I returned her a pic of the cows in the field near my house. It felt like we were feasting together, and giving the kind of thanks that never gets old.
Maybe that’s what the Native Americans wanted to teach us— giving and receiving even small things, like a kernel of corn, can change everything about the future.