Mary Schmich is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.
It’s not too late to decide to stay home for Thanksgiving.
It may break your heart, and maybe someone else’s, not to have the Thanksgiving of your plans and dreams. But think of it this way: Sacrifice can be an act of gratitude. Giving up something for the common good is a form of giving thanks.
In the past week, a lot of people have finally made the hard decision to forgo the Thanksgiving they want. Until the past few days, with the holiday knocking louder all the time, they’d held out hope that this Thanksgiving could at least approximate the holidays of memory and ritual.
Then they looked at the data, heeded the warnings and changed their minds.
No need to go over all the data here. We’re numb with COVID-19 data. One number will suffice: 250,000. A quarter million Americans. Dead in only a few months from this treacherously contagious virus.
That fact penetrates a little more every day, along with the understanding that when we travel, the virus does too.
I’ve been hearing heartbreaking Thanksgiving stories all week. Of canceled flights. Canceled hotel reservations. Difficult phone conversations.
One woman wrote to tell me how sad she is that she canceled plans for her 75-year-old mother to join her and her husband for dinner. Now her mom will spend Thanksgiving alone. She worries that she’ll see Facebook photos of other people’s festive family gatherings and “feel like a chump for following the rules.”
Honestly, I’m not sure what I’d do if my mother were still alive and in my Thanksgiving equation, but I do know that erring on the side of safety is not being a chump. It’s an intelligent sacrifice, and sacrifice takes courage.
The decisions we make about how to spend Thanksgiving rarely involve just ourselves. We make them in relation to friends and family who may not see the situation the way we do.
One of my former colleagues tells the story of how his sister and parents have planned to rent a house for a week with family members from Illinois and Florida. He thought the idea was dicey and started a family email thread to say so.
“That mostly pissed my sister off,” he said.
Afterward, he did some research. He read that trying to convince people with facts won’t change hearts. So he sent his parents a heartfelt note about friends and co-workers who have lost parents. He told them that’s what he’d be thinking about all week if the Thanksgiving gathering went ahead as planned.
“On Monday morning,” he says, “my typically non-expressive dad sent me one of the most moving messages I’ve ever gotten, saying essentially, ‘Now you know what you put us through as a teenager. We’re staying home. Thanks for pushing.'”
It was an uncomfortable discussion but he was glad that he spoke up — not stridently, but out of love.
Canceling may even prove to be a relief. On Thursday, the daughter of a friend called to cancel their small, outdoor get-together.
“I think it’s best,” my friend says. “We all would have been really tense. Which isn’t fun. We’ll Zoom like everyone else.”
No one wants to be shamed or bullied into canceling their Thanksgiving plans, and in some cases traveling and a small gathering may be OK.
But the CDC says stay home. Epidemiologists say stay home. So does decency in the name of the common good. You could call that decency patriotic.
I decided three weeks ago not to join my brother and his family in Colorado, which I’ve done for many years. It made me sad. Still does. But the right thing is often the hard thing.
The key to turning this difficult choice into something easier is to think creatively. We can ask ourselves: How can I reframe Thanksgiving?
One way would be to turn it into a day of reflection instead of a conventional celebration. Give thanks in a different way. By taking a walk and admiring the world around you. By giving money to a food pantry. By sending a thank-you note or text to someone you care about.
Make this sacrifice for the exhausted and endangered health care workers. Make it for family and friends and strangers. Make it for the future. And for yourself.
It’s not too late.