Less than two hours ago I safely arrived home for Thanksgiving! As my mom was telling her co-workers, I’m here* for the first time in a decade (the last time was when I lived at home for a year back in 2004). Or as I was posting it on Twitter, I’m here* for only the third time since I graduated from high school in the spring of 1998.
*here for Thanksgiving, I mean – I’ve been here for several summers and the occasional Christmas!
I’m in a confused state of mind now. For one thing, I drove instead of flying, the first time I’ve driven home from living elsewhere since the holidays of 2003. For another, it’s usually Christmas when I arrive here in the short-days, long-nights time of year. Since there’s only one more week of classes after this and then exams, it does kind of feel like the end of the semester, so why isn’t it Christmas? Adding another layer of weirdness is the fact that I saw two of my three family members twice in the last few weeks, first Dad and Brother in Charlottesville two and a half weeks ago, then Dad and Mom visiting my own place barely ten days ago. That certainly hasn’t happened much in the last decade!
I’ll bet if I sat down with paper and pencil, I could tell you where I was and who I was with for each of those Thanksgivings since high school. Indeed, if you’re in the mood for a story or several, just get me started. (Or, I found after posting this, you can also read this post from three years ago!) For a few of the China ones I might have to cheat and look at my old photo files, but aside from one or two I’m confident I could give a good accounting.
So arriving here for this rare family Thanksgiving is causing me to reflect again on how my perspective on the holidays has changed since I became first the “outsider” and then the “fellow expat.”
As humans, we all like routine and tradition to varying degrees. As a child, I was strongly attached to our family traditions, and I resented pretty much anyone who was added into our family celebrations. I still relax best on my own turf and without guests (and after all, the holidays are times we expect to enjoy ourselves, right?), but having been in the outsider myself during my college years, by God’s grace I have a more open attitude now. Indeed, I wish I could go back and give my younger self a glimpse. Those families – and it was a different family each year – graciously included me in their traditions when I had nowhere else to go, some at the last minute. Having now been in international communities where Thanksgiving is celebrated en masse and the party includes people who are not even American, I realize that it doesn’t have to be nuclear-family centered or even culturally exclusive. (Chalk up one more reason I hope any children I raise grow up “among worlds” and not mono-cultural.)
I could do more reflecting. For example, on Luke 14:12-14, which is the basis for the short story “By Invitation of Jesus” and of a John Piper sermon I listened to recently. Or on the process of turning my eyes outward from myself to pay more attention to others (something I stink at – example A could be this blog post that’s all about me!). Or on imperfectly searching for and acting on opportunities to share grace. But for the moment I’m just reflecting on how good it feels to be home, and on how it’s possible to be this tired after a 4-hour drive instead of a 24-hour air journey! Good night and Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate this holiday.