How Remembering Reorients Us

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The first year I moved to the U.S., my parents and I wandered through the grocery store on Thanksgiving day and asked the man working behind the deli counter if we could buy a turkey.

The man pointed to the sliced turkey meat on the side. My parents clarified, “We are looking for the whole turkey.”

The man chuckled and said, “You’re not going to get a whole bird today. We were sold out days ago.”

I still remember the demeaning tone of his voice and how he looked at my parents like they were fools. I remember the deep embarrassment that filled my body and how I turned around and wandered to another aisle, unable to process the encounter.

We had baked chicken and a handful of sides that year. It was just our small family of four, trying our best to mimic the American ritual of giving thanks over poultry and carbs.

In the season of gathering and belonging, I felt out of place.

This memory has stayed with me for over a decade. For the past several years, my family has celebrated the holiday with other immigrant families. Each November nearly 30 of us gather around a table that is decked out with all the delicacies—creamy mashed potatoes, green beans topped with crispy onions, cranberry chutney, turkey (sometimes marinated in tandoori spices), chicken curry, tuna cutlets and fried rice. The traditional spread reflects the nature of my community—we are people stuck in the middle of two worlds. Self-preservation and survival is done best when we blend our worlds, bringing the joy of both onto one table.

Over the years we have established the ritual. Each family take turns hosting. The uncles bring the booze. The aunties bring the food. The kids try to stay away from the adults, unless they want a second serving of pie.

Before we dig into the feast that the aunties have labored over for hours, we say a prayer. We raise our hearts before the divine and give thanks.

We give thanks for the blessing of shelter and of food.
We give thanks for our children—born in North American soil, in the land of opportunities and dreams yet to be fulfilled.
We give thanks for the jobs that help us provide and care for our families.
We give thanks for each other. In a land where blood relatives are few, we have an unspoken pact that ensures blood does not dictate family.

Each year, I give thanks for the gift of belonging.

I remember the early years of being an immigrant in this country. I remember being out of place. I remember how I felt embarrassed because I didn’t know the rules of celebrating Thanksgiving. I remember how hard it is for my parents to be away from their parents and siblings, and how they treat this immigrant community as if they were their blood relatives. I remember the impermanent nature of life and the beauty of right now.

The remembering reorients me towards gratitude. It also orients me to those who are out of place during this season.

I remember those who don’t have a space to gather.
I remember those who are away from their loved ones, whether by choice or by force.
I remember those who find gathering difficult.
I remember those who have trauma resurface during this time of year.
I remember those who have lost loved ones during this time of year

I see you.

I see your pain, your grief, your anger and your deep sadness. Gratitude in the midst of those feelings can feel complicated. I know. I see you. I hold space in my prayers for you.

In it all and through it all, I give thanks.
For the impermanence and the right now, I give thanks.
For my community, my family and that (rude and arrogant) guy behind the deli counter who taught me the gift of feeling out place, I give thanks.

SheLovelys, I’m grateful for you and this community. Who/What are you giving thanks for today? Who are you holding space for during this holiday season?

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Leah Abraham

Leah Abraham

Leah is a storyteller + writer + journalist + creative + empathizing romantic + pessimistic realist + ISFP + Enneagram type 2 + much more. She lives in the Seattle area where she works as an education reporter and features writer. Bonus facts: She loves the great indoors, hates to floss, and is obsessed with Korean food and her dorky, immigrant family.
Leah Abraham
Leah Abraham

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