Here we go again.
Let the holidays begin. Thanksgiving. Family gatherings. The annual celebration of abundance. More food than anyone can possibly consume. Stressing over the perfect turkey. Meticulous meal preparation, timed to the minute. Football. Laughter…forced and genuine. A time of setting aside differences. And of eating together.
Then, people hang lights that sparkle on trees, both real and artificial, with smiles that are wide and hearts that are happy. They camp out in the cold and dark waiting for stores to open their doors at midnight so they can shop deals as fake as the plastic pine tree sitting in their living room. They wrap packages in fancy paper, tying them up with ribbons and bows. Attend parties large and small with friends, family, coworkers. Some, they want to hang out with. Some they don’t. They get extra time off work to celebrate, which almost makes up for the extended hours of darkness and the frigid weather. The presents that were so carefully wrapped are picked up, shaken, weighed by excited children and hopeful adults. Everywhere you look, lights twinkle in the night, chasing away the emptiness, burning electricity with great abandon from where they have been artfully strung across rooftops, around windows and along shrubbery and sidewalks.
Everything appears warm and welcoming. Shiny. Happy. At least on the surface. And perhaps that is all we can ask of the season.
It’s a time of abundance and joy; at least this is what we have been told. Or sold. The season of relationships. Gatherings, recognizing and recounting all you have to be thankful for, of expressions of love and appreciation. A time of laughter, consuming, overeating, extravagant spending and connecting with those who matter the most to you.
Connecting. Celebrating. Counting your blessings. Light. Laughter. Family. Bonding. Attachment.
Unless you have no family. No meaningful connections.
When you are alone, the glare of the twinkling lights only serves to expose the void in which you exist. There are no get-togethers. No festivities. Instead, it is deafeningly quiet. Empty.
Thanksgiving is just another day off work.
Food can’t fill you. Decorations can’t make the world you live in a pretty, appealing, palatable place. And there is no one to connect with…or cook for…or camp out with on unforgiving concrete sidewalks while waiting for merchant’s doors to open so you can buy those you cherish the one thing they want more than anything in the world (this year) at a price that has been marked up twice and marked down only once.
If this is you, it’s likely you will find yourself standing in line, as did I, at Golden Corral at noon on Thanksgiving Day. Waiting for the 200+ people who arrived before you to eat with their families and head home, finally opening up a table for you. You inch forward, listening to the chatter and lighthearted exchanges. The giggles and groans. You are assaulted by a wall of sound. All around you. Produced by people. People who have people.
You can’t help but wonder: What are they all doing at Golden Corral on Thanksgiving Day, standing in this ridiculously long line of people waiting to eat?
They are not alone. They are linked. Kids, parents, grandparents. Cousins, friends, siblings. The line waiting to get in the restaurant isn’t the only line in which they stand. They represent generations, the culmination of those who have come before. Little pieces of their ancestors within their cells. The line will continue. The kids will grow up, having kids who will have kids who will have kids. Lines. Connections. Continuity.
Unlike you, they do not represent the end of the line. The last generation. They have reason. Purpose. Meaning.
They wait in a line that forms all around me. In front of me. Behind me. Little ones restless, playing together, running in circles. Parents content to let them be. Keeping their eye on them, but loosely. This is a day to set aside worry and fear. This is the season of light in the darkness. A time of believing and being grateful. A lull before a new year begins and the lights are extinguished.
Sound. Laughter. Conversations. Some serious. Some silly. Motion. Hugs. Linked hands. Arms entwined. Moving slowly forward. Together.
I observe as they swirl around me. I see, but do not belong. I watch, but do not participate. I am alone, frozen, dead in the middle of the living. I watch. But I am not a part of them, even though I stand in the middle of it all.
When I am finally seated, I eat in silence. By myself. And then I leave. Unnoticed.
I walk away from it. Full. Empty. I walk away, a solitary figure, lonely and isolated.
There is still a line when I leave. People are yet waiting, but they wait together. Thanksgiving Day at the Golden Corral. The beginning of the season of connectedness. And I am adrift.
I watch them as I go, then turn away. Enveloped by emptiness.
I see. But I cannot touch. And I remain untouched. Though I am surrounded by a crowd of laughing, happy people, no one in the crowd belongs to me, nor do I belong to them. I stand and sit and wait and walk alone. Disconnected. For no one in the orbit of my life deeply touches me. My heart is not entangled with theirs. Nor is anyone saddened to see me quietly walk away. Assuming they see me at all.