The fourth Thursday of November is upon us and sales of certain antacid like products are going to go through the roof for about the next month. Santa Claus will ride his float into Herald Square and for the next month we will be in a constant stir of overindulgence. We will eat too much, drink too much and likely spend too much. The nice thing about this one month is that more than any other time of the year we somehow manage to tap into our better angels. So this same over indulgence becomes reflected in other ways. We are a little kinder to each other, a little more generous of spirit, a little more forgiving and a little less critical. Smiles adorn the faces of even the most hardened New Yorkers. I don’t really know the reason for this. A part of me thinks it is because, of course, the fat man in a funny red suit really does know if we’ve been good or bad and doles out his graciousness accordingly. It would seem to me that the only people alive who would actively promote the opposite of good fellowship and kindness during this period would be executives of the coal industry. After all, Santa might someday be their only remaining customer.
Of course the holiday that kicks off this season of seasons is Thanksgiving. Its tradition is both religious and cultural. We have all heard the stories of the pilgrims and the natives. It is celebrated in Canada and some Caribbean islands as well and similar traditions exist in Germany and Japan. Indeed the roots of the holiday go much farther back than the settlement of this country. It traces back to the harvest celebrations of the Protestant Reformation in England. It is not celebrated necessarily on the same day as we celebrate it in other places but it does occur at roughly the same time of year.
We all have much to be grateful for and the good thing about Thanksgiving is it helps us pull into focus exactly what we are most grateful for, or who we are most grateful for.
I am not the first human being to utter the notion that unlike family, we choose our friends. Families come with the package, friends are acquired. They are the add-ons that make the ride so much more comfortable. Familial love is profound and embedded deep in our consciousness, our sub consciousness and even our unconsciousness. It is ingrained in ways neither I nor a billion others have ever been able to properly articulate. It is why even the most toxic of these relationships are so hard to walk away from. If you came from a crazy household (which I did) the only other people that can truly understand both the enormity and the nuances of such an existence are those who also lived through it. However, no matter how common the experience is, our individual perspective or lens is unique. Older children experience it differently than younger ones. Girls experience it differently than boys. Some kids are the favorite of one parent some are the favorites of others, others get lost in the bog of the middle. Often siblings are pitted as adversaries in this manner in a war between parents or other family members.
Friends do not come from the same maelstrom although what frequently bonds us is a similarity of experience. There is enough commonality to foster trust and enough difference to elicit empathy. They are not part and parcel of the turf wars inside the family unit. Friends’ homes are where one flees to when things are getting just too dicey. Often my friends parents made me more welcome at their home than my own parents did even if their own kids felt the same way about my parents.
We can talk about it all with our friends. No trouble is too big, no story too embarrassing and no judgements are made. Loyalty never has to be called for; it is baked into the cake. Friends celebrate our achievements with us and help us through our losses. They grieve with us and they encourage us. They pray for us and they root for us. Rarely do we need to ask for help from them because too often they are there before the question can be asked.
I have been fortunate in this life to have some incredible friends throughout all the varied stages of my life. I have been an incredibly good harvester of people. Or I have been incredibly lucky.
I grew up in a neighborhood that while desirous at this point in time, was when I was a child, abysmal. My driving ambition as a teenager was not to aspire to some grandiose heights. I did not seek to become a great engineer or architect or scientist. I did not want Pulitzers or Peabodys or Oscars or Emmys or Tonys or Grammys or Nobels. I simply wanted to get off my particular street corner. But getting to the point where I could only came because the people who took that journey with me helped me get to a point where I could discover the courage and the wherewithal to do it. I had to figure the rest out for myself and I couldn’t take them with me, but because of them I was able to.
Geography changed our access to each other but not our connection. We are together as the saying goes through thick and thin, pain and joy, like in a marriage, for better or worse.
I spent my college years in a galaxy far, far, away and some of the aliens I communed with there are still voyaging with me through the milky way of my more than middle years.
Theater brought other friends who maintain both contact and support and I played darts for and worked in a bar where some of the finest people in my life have made me a part of their lives. I am no longer a product of the night and spend far less time in bars. But each and every year I find myself in the very middle of the most disorderly choir of misfits bellowing Christmas carols and hanging on for dear life to some of the dearest souls I have ever encountered. Every few years, someone is summoned from our choir to the heavenly one and there is a moment during the singing of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas where a knowing eye is glanced around and as the semi organized screaming continues, acknowledgment is made of the loss of “faithful friends” as those who “travel near to us once more” engage in a simultaneous embrace.
I try not to use this space to promote any products or a particular business and usually I refrain from dropping names, because to do so, particularly in a setting such as this, combined with the ever increasing inadequacies of my memory, inevitably someone will slip through the cracks. So I will say thank you friends from my youth who still camp with me and go on day trips and advise me on my dart style even though I no longer compete. You can even keep calling me a turkey. Well, it is Thanksgiving. And please to the one of you who prepares my taxes, please keep doing them. Thank you college friends who treated me so well the last time we all got together in the City Different. Thank you all of you who have acted with me and still keep in touch even if you do live in the outer boroughs. Nobody’s perfect. Thank you Mr. Saloon owner of a Greenwich Village bar where all the bad singing takes place, who once poured drinks with me as he watched my back and I watched his and we both watched his lady friend’s even though she was smarter than both of us. Thank you to the photographer person I met there over thirty years ago who has taken my head shot and who captured the joy in my soul even when I could not.
Thank you to all the other wonderful people who have come through those doors as well, living both terrestrially and in my memory. Thank you to the wonderful young people from serious doughnut holes who adopted me because they thought I might actually be an adult and upon finding out otherwise decided to keep me anyway.
Thank you to my brother who walks the high wire of friendship and family so adeptly. Thank you to the newer friends I have met in a place that is more like a state of mind than an actual state, but alas it is that too. It has mountains, it has large birds and the deer and the antelope truly play there. It also has two of the finest dogs I have ever known. These new friends have filled a void left behind by some who have journeyed off and they have filled it with joy and acceptance.
Most of all I want to thank, my best friend, she who as a coin is of the smallest denomination but in heart is of the largest value. Thank you for being a breath of fresh air and the calm in the storm of a life lived on an island filled with unpleasant odors and too much anxiety . Thank you for teaching me to look up, because that’s where the rainbows are.
I give thanksgiving today for all my friends. I would never have gotten this far without you all. Please stand by for I will need you all on the rest of the journey. I will do the same. Now pass the pie please.