Wednesday, December 2, 2009

No thanks, not this year


By JOELLEN COLLINS

I spent a rare and unusual Thanksgiving alone in San Francisco this past week. Before anyone thinks I am unduly sad, let me inform you that this was my much-considered decision, because I was ill and, for many reasons, didn't want to impose my cold and flu symptoms on my son-in-law's family and friends merely for the sake of "tradition." I had been sick enough the few days before the holiday to feel weak and exhausted, so the idea of being a meaningful contributor to a vibrant celebration was not on my immediate list. As it turned out, I spent most of the day in bed in the guestroom of my daughter and her husband, quite contentedly recuperating. While it was a spectacularly beautiful day in the Presidio, where they live, even that crisp, clear air couldn't lure me from my fluffy cave.

While I missed the camaraderie and affection of the family, I have lived alone long enough to be all right in the circumstances. Both my daughters worried that I might be lonely, but in the end I realized it was a wise choice to be apart from a lot of other folks this day. I got my turkey feast brought home in a doggie bag from the dinner and enjoyed it Friday night. I had a big crafts show coming up at Fort Mason on Saturday and Sunday, quite exhausting in itself, so I knew I needed the rest.

Although I don't drink anymore, I made a few silly comments as my gang drove away that they could find me bellying up to the local bar (either the No Name in Sausalito or maybe an especially seedy one on Lombard or environs) if they worried I might need company. I was indulging in a kind of gallows humor, but it got me thinking about the people who really don't have a choice of being with family for Thanksgiving or other holidays. I understand the angst of separation from loved ones, especially on special days, and I do imagine many in reality feeling depressed at the absence of gaiety and conviviality. I can picture those bereft trying to find some substitute for their loss.

While I identify with many who cherish family traditions and love to keep them myself, I think sometimes we put so much stress on certain celebrations that we artificially inflate their actual importance and relevance to our lives. Perhaps we make ourselves unhappier than necessary when we can't be part of what we remember as warm and beautiful times.

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As I've grown older, moved, seen loved ones die and circumstances alter so that change is necessary, I have begun to embrace the freedom to try new approaches to many of the traditions we keep. For example, I was never crazy about New Year's Eve except when very young and in love. Even then I sensed something too blatantly false about the desperation involved in trying to be so special that one could be invited to share the evening, to be glamorous and sophisticated with the much-awaited caress at the stroke of 12. For a few years as a young married couple, my then husband and I would go to San Francisco, stay near my dearest friends' digs in Sausalito, and spend New Year's Eve going with them to the latest Woody Allen movie followed by a late dinner at La Burgoyne, topped by Grand Marnier soufflé in the wee hours of the morning. When distance and children made this event harder to re-create, we just stopped. We all outgrew that ritual but cherish the memories. Now I don't care at all what I do New Year's Eve, hardly even note the countdown in Times Square, and would rather light a fire and read a good book or cuddle with a dog (though I don't have one at the moment but will). I certainly don't want to hazard the roads. While that may be the talk of an older woman, I think it is a valid approach to some event that one no longer finds productive.

I know I will have other times to spend with those I love, and I am pleased to have experienced the gift of not giving in to some societal or inner pressure to please everyone by doing something in the name of politeness that might have been unhealthy for me and probably for them, flu season aside. Of course, I look forward to next year's feast and being with my family: Here's a toast to health, good humor and a sense of perspective!




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