Thursday, November 25, 2010
The Thanksgiving Travel.
I just returned from the long Thanksgiving journey. Like millions of Americans, my Thanksgivings consist of out-of-state travel.
For the last five years or so, my family has faithfully gathered at my sister's, in Eugene. For all of us, save my brother, who also lives in Oregon, we find ourselves driving, flying, or taking the train long distances.
We could, perhaps, find a more "neutral" spot to meet--so we all travel equal distances, but we've settled on my sister's place as the spot, so we dutifully go.
I had a long time to think this trip, as I took the train. It's a full day and full night trip from SLO, but such a lovely, relaxing way to travel.
I got to thinking how modern Thanksgiving is emblematic of American culture and family. We are a culture that craves distance and seeks new ties elsewhere. I bet we are one of the few cultures in the world that views staying in one's hometown as a stigma.
Not that I'm complaining.
I love that we have this freedom and yearning to start anywhere. We don't feel burdened by "having" to stay in our comfortable environment. Our elderly population is probably not the better for this trend, as we tend to abandon them in rest homes or spots where others will take care of them.
But for the rest of us, we are very unattached, and it's fairly easy to slough off any guilt that accompanies leaving one's relatives behind to live in a spot that offers more opportunity.
That's why I love Thanksgiving. We clog the airports, roads, and railways so we can traverse thousands of miles to simply share one meal together. Some complain, many dread it and find excuses not to go, and others look forward to the one time they see their family all year.
I'm in the camp that appreciates the holiday, the effort. It's symbolic that when families here gather, we must travel great distances to do so. It's this act, I believe, that breeds appreciation for the holiday and the meaning behind it. Despite the high cost of airline travel, the annoyance of standing in airport lines or waiting in traffic, the tradition endures. It's certainly not about the turkey.
It's hard not to feel grateful after you've arrived. You sit jostled by strangers for hours on end, or trapped in a car with family, and you finally reach the destination. It's warm. Loud. The kitchen smells like pie and spices. Someone hands you a glass of wine or beer.
Each family brings its baggage or burdens or tales of appreciation to the table. Regardless of where one stands, it's hard not to sit together and reflect. Thanks-giving. Give Thanks. You made it.
If you have family close by, and don't have to travel, I wonder if the holiday is as meaningful? If you just drive down the street, and the whole family is there--which means you probably see them frequently--do you derive the same level of satisfaction--do you dip into the same deep well of gratitude?
My theory is that we keep the tradition alive because we've dispersed ourselves far and wide. We relish in the complaining. We enjoy the effort it takes so we can gather and counteract the grumbling with appreciation.
I don't mind the distance we have to go. Each mile makes the effort that much more worth it.