When we exist without thought or thanksgiving we are not men, but beasts.

– M.F.K Fisher

A half-eaten free-range chicken carcass cools in a plastic bag in the freezer. Mashed potatoes congeal in a container and I can still smell the cinnamon and allspice which sat mulling in a crock pot of apple cider. I have just turned on the dishwasher and Rosie licks the remainder of the gravy from her right paw.

Thanksgiving is over.

Our day was quiet. We do not gather in big groups with others or fly to destinations to make annual visits to relations. No, we stay home. We stay home and watch everyone else leave. By Tuesday, the street, normally packed with cars, had begun to empty and by Wednesday night lone vehicles sat at random points along the street. It’s a city dwellers dream come true. Parking spots everywhere. Parking spots so abundant we don’t need to parallel park to get into them. We can slide our car right up to the front of our house without even stopping to ask of the spot we found, “Is it big enough?” Of course it’s big enough — it’s the size of the whole street!

We love the city on the holidays. We stay on Thanksgiving and Christmas just so we can marvel at and wander along near empty streets. Thirty minute drives to other neighborhoods take less than ten minutes. Upon arriving at our destination we comment, “I wish it was always like this.”

The quiet of Thanksgiving day in the city is the reward we receive after surviving the days before. That’s why we stay home. So we can really give thanks for what we enjoy about our life. In the days preceding Thanksgiving we aren’t so grateful. Wednesday afternoon from 3:30 to 5:50 I crawled along the expressway to get home. We moved so slowly that the needle of the speedometer never moved into the part of the dial that actually measures speed. Instead, it seemed to quiver just below in the no-man’s-land of movement without speed. For two hours in a steady rain, I saw nothing but a sea of solid red taillights. In the cars beside me, people talked on cell phones or let their heads rest in their left hands as they aimlessly steered the car with their right. Traffic was dense. And we all inched along the expressway in order to arrive at home and then rush. Rush to the stores, rush to friends, rush to brine the turkey. In the car, everything stopped, once I got out, everything sped up

It was only after dinner, after the chicken (because we need to feed only two) had been dissected that I felt as if I had stopped. I felt as if I had finally rolled up into my perfect parking spot and could step out, unhurried and happy. Now, I can give thanks. It is hard for me to remember to give thanks during the mad rush (who can?). During the mad rush, I feel very little gratitude. Mostly, I resent the holidays for sucking up valuable time (what I do in that time, I don’t know) and for congesting highways and stores. I complain a bit. I get tired. I want to escape the holiday.

And I almost did.

Two weeks ago I said, “Let’s eat out.”

“What?”

“Let’s eat out for Thanksgiving. I’m too tired to cook. We’ll just go out and have dinner and go to a movie.”

“O-kaayy,” Brian said. He agreed the way one agrees to something they know will never happen. Okay. Sure. Like we’ll ever do that.

But for two weeks, I tried. I cruised the internet daily looking at restaurants and their menus. I read restaurant reviews and looked at prices. And after two weeks, I said to Brian, “Let’s just eat at home.”

“Yeah, I kind of thought you would say that.”

So, last Saturday I went to the Green City Market (the organic market in Chicago) and stood outdoors in the chilly air and chose my potatoes, my pumpkin, and my free-range chicken. I stopped and chatted with the lamb farmer about his pastures and his hay. And I began to remind myself that the day was not about rushing to perfection (the perfect turkey, the perfect pie, the perfect flowers), but about finding the moment of peace that reminds me that this pie, this chicken, this flower are mine. Mine to roast, eat, and admire. And how lucky I am to have this chicken, this flower.

That good, happy, aren’t-I-grateful feeling lasted for a day. By mid-week I returned to hating the holiday to celebrate the day “the Puritans invaded the Americas and displaced the Native people.” Today, half way through boiling potatoes, checking the pie, and burning the cranberries, I realized that I wasn’t breathing, but holding my breath. I felt like I was at work. I wasn’t having a holiday at all.

That’s when I remembered. It’s not about perfect pie or the chicken. It’s about the gratitude for the pie and the chicken. I stopped, mid-potato, and broke a piece of celery from the bunch I was using for stuffing. I walked to Jackson’s cage. I watched her jump for the celery and then chew it with enthusiasm. I love to watch Jackson eat vegetables. She looks so happy to be eating them. She looks so happy eating lettuce that it has made me want to eat more lettuce. She chewed down that celery stick like it was a log going into a wood chipper. I stayed in front of her cage and watched her until I felt myself slow down. Until I felt like I had stopped moving. In my mind, the needle of my speedometer had dipped below zero.

Now, I was grateful.

jax eating celery

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